Millennial Conservatism places liberty as primary virtue

ASSOCIATED PRESS/SUSAN WALSH Conservatives speak last month in Washington, D.C., during the “Rally Against Political Violence” in response to the attack on Republican congressmen during their June 14 baseball practice in Virginia.

We have, in my previous columns, thus far established the premise of Millennial Conservatism as being more of a political philosophy than an ideology.


But what does it stand for on principle? What are its main tenets? What sets it apart from mainstream conservatism?

Remember, when articulating political principles, we assume these are starting points, or foundations for the future. If conservatism is to appeal to millennials and their children (as well as more traditional conservatives), it must adapt and evolve in some form, while keeping true to its foundations.

This part of the series will take a few columns to explicate.

The overarching foundation that distinguishes this vision from leftist thought is much-aligned with all forms of conservatism: liberty. The highest form of political virtue, of humanity, is personal liberty.


This is perhaps the key to all understanding of Enlightenment principles. After all, a purpose of the Enlightenment was to establish individual liberty, free from government interference.

Our Founding Fathers were products of the Enlightenment, and of centralized government, so it is understandable that this premise is in line with their orientation.

Centralized government, whether in the form of monarchy, oligarchy, or democracy, represents by its very nature a threat to individual freedom. The more power a regime has, the less freedom an individual has.

Of course, centralized power needs to exist in some aspect: this is what separates conservatism and libertarianism from anarchism.

But with each decision the central government makes, it must take seriously the concerns of how that decision will affect individual liberty.

Liberty is the highest form of political expression.

It is the quintessential natural right that makes us human. We have it and are born into it just from our very existence. Each time a regime takes over something that ought to be in the hands of the individual, people lose a part of what makes them human. There must be a balance between centralized power and individual liberty.


Closely following this is equality of opportunity, which in millennial conservative thought is closely associated with self-reliance and personal responsibility.

These concepts cannot be thought about in isolation from each other. The government cannot prevent individuals from self-empowerment and the opportunity to succeed. This means it does play a role in making sure all individuals are free to try to excel in their daily lives.

What separates millennial conservatism from the left, for instance, is that there is no obligation for success.

In other words, you are free to try to excel, but you are not guaranteed success and the government has no obligation to help you toward success. Its only job in this regard is to not impede your chances to succeed, and yes, to protect the extremely underrepresented or indigent.

A conservative philosophy must deem it virtuous to bring up the less-fortunate.

The Declaration of Independence is clear that we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which of course Thomas Jefferson loosely borrowed from John Locke’s concept of property. We are not promised happiness or property. We are promised only that the government will not prevent us from achieving it.


Thus, the burden of achieving happiness remains with the individual.

It is up to you to determine the course of your life. It is up to you to determine how hard you want to work to have the luxuries of life. It is up to you to decide whether you want full or limited health coverage or any other everyday “necessities” such as television, cable, an Xbox, or an iPhone.

Your right to determine which you prefer is promised by our sacred Constitution. But your right to not have any of these is also given by our Constitution. It is up to your individual skill and determination to choose the course of your life.

If the government interferes and takes over parental authority for our decision-making, we lose liberty and become subjects to the whimsy of government. We also lose that which makes us human: dignity, trial by fire and that never-quit mindset that makes us fulfilled when we achieve a long-sought-after goal.


With this said, millennial conservatism is perhaps more compassionate than mainstream conservatism for those who have environmental, societal or just personal setbacks that prevent them from living a life of dignity.

The government ought to provide for those who are left behind in a significant manner. In other words, if a person is living below a certain level of dignity and the local community has not been able to provide a helping hand, the government should provide a hand up – never a handout.

But social programs for the less-fortunate need to be reshaped and calibrated in such a way that they teach individuals how to provide for themselves and to become self-reliant. It also comes with expectations that if one takes from the government, one owes something to society in return.

The key point is that this ought to be rare. The government is the last resort; and if one takes from the government, one returns the favor.


Craig Albert is associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Augusta University. Follow him on Twitter: @polscountrydoc.

Dee STAFFORD 8 days ago
All excellent points until the part about government ought to provide for those living below a certain level of dignity of the local government can't.  

Except for the elderly and the disabled, what needs to be done for those others that local charities and local government can't accomplish?  It should not be from the national government.

Anyone other than the elderly and the disabled should have to look the giver of the aid in the eye when receiving it.  That is one of the problems now is a faceless government hands out plastic cards to be used for welfare and there is no shame.

It should be a shame for not being able to support one's self and family so much so that one is willing to do any work to get off the assistance.

If that is the type of hand up being talked about, I'm all for it.

The two Bushes had this idea of "compassionate conservatism" and it did not work. It only increased the size of government.

I share Ben Franklin's  view on the poor:

"I am for doing good for the poor, but...I think the best way of doing good for the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it.  I observed...that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer.  And, on the contrary, the less was done for the, the more they did for themselves, and became richer."
chas cushman 7 days ago
Dee, I agree. The Great Society and dumocrats have created millions of deadbeats,generation after generation.
Craig Albert 5 days ago
I agree. What I was implying, is if local government and family, charity, fails, then the central government should step in, for children, elderly, those mentally incapable of taking care of oneself. My point is that the central government, if used at all, is used as a last resort, not first which is what so many people want instead. Thanks for your comments and for letting me clarify!
Val White 7 days ago

Just the fact that the government programs providing free housing, free childcare, free medical care, money for food and utilities has NOT only NOT helped the poor, but actually created more poverty proves these programs need to be done away with.

The "takers" are just like the children whose parents give them everything whenever they throw a tantrum - unable to accept rejection, ignorant of how to compete, and an inability to succeed on their own. 

Tom Taber 5 days ago
I'm enjoying Professor Albert's columns and am interested in seeing where it goes.  He's obviously given this issue a lot of thought and he expresses his views very articulately.  

He's lost me, a little, in the distinction drawn between a philosophy and an ideology.  For me, they're much the same.  I have, over the course of my lifetime, developed a conservative philosophy.  This has come through  the study of various political writers,  the observation of governments in action, and through the development of viewpoints about human nature and behavior.  I think rigidity in one's belief about some particular issue is mostly a function of time and observation.  If I see something happen over and over and over again,  I'll be more and more convinced with each passing observation that I was right (or wrong) and my view will change accordingly.   

To me,  having a conservative philosophy is not really different from having a conservative ideology except that to some people the latter indicates a certain degree of rigidity and unwillingness to accept even minor alterations to a pre-established belief.  Personally, I don't see that sort of rigidity in any of the conservatives I observe, except in a very few fundamental issues (like abortion) which I agree are at the heart of contemporary conservatism.   Most conservatives have a little flexibility on most issues, it seems to me.   Even on that issue (abortion) I see a certain degree of flexibility among most conservatives through exceptions for incest, rape, and credible health issues. 

I really didn't mean to type so much about that because I actually think it is relatively insignificant to the issue at hand.  Millennial Conservatism as compared to traditional conservatism.  Personally, I think Millennials are not really any different than previous generations' young folks, except to the extent that they've generally not seen how tough life can really be and that their minds have been filled with propaganda from left-wing teachers, professors, and mass media.  Wasn't it Plato who said something like 'The most important questions are who will teach the children, and what will they teach them?'  Well, the public education system is been lost to liberal ideologues for decades (at least) and to the mainstream media.  It is no wonder to me they tend to lean left on most political and philosophical issues.
Tom Taber 5 days ago
I guess another issue that bothers me is this discussion about "compassion."  I think it's a red herring..  I don't know any conservative who doesn't agree that society should stand behind those who, through no fault of their own,  and from no source other than government, are unable to obtain goods and service necessary for life.  Personally, I think government should be viewed as a last resort, lining up behind family, neighborhood, churches, charitable organizations, and local governments.  It is a huge mistake, but for some very profitable, to use the federal government as a welfare agency.  It hurts the taxpayers and it hurts those sucked in to believing bad behavior is a path to a livelihood.  We pay people to exhibit bad behavior and we shouldn't.  We've trained multiple generations and we've got to figure out how to retrain them, not perpetuate the wrong policy our of some misguided sense of "compassion."