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Office Hours with Steven F. Hayward, the Happy Warrior

Office Hours with Steven Hayward

This article appears in the Fall 2015 issue of the Intercollegiate Review. Check out the rest of the issue here.


The University of Colorado chose wisely when, in 2013, it named Steven F. Hayward the school’s first Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy. A former ISI Richard M. Weaver Fellow at Claremont Graduate University, Dr. Hayward has been a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute, and a distinguished fellow at the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University. He also has written several books, including the acclaimed two-volume Age of Reagan. A popular speaker at ISI conferences, Dr. Hayward is now the Ronald Reagan Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University. He agreed to answer ISI students’ questions about a variety of issues.

What was the most important lesson you learned from your experience as the first visiting conservative scholar at one of the most liberal campuses in the country?
—Alaenna Bieganski, University of Wyoming

Probably that being a ­“happy warrior” was the best way to unnerve campus leftists—that and having the confident attitude that even though I was badly outnumbered, they had more to fear from me than I did from them. Campus leftism tends to go so unchallenged that it’s easy to unnerve progressives. But you need to pick your battles carefully, because at a big public university, there’s simply too much nonsense to take it all on. Also, conservatives have a great inherent advantage at large liberal ­universities—we’re more open to different points of view and tend to be more capacious and genuinely “liberal” (in the right sense of that word) in our ­learning.

Liberal ideology is very attractive to young people. How do we make conservatism more attractive?
—Katherine Sodeika, University of Wisconsin–Madison

That is a tough question. To grasp the depth of the challenge, read Michael Oakeshott’s classic essay “On Being Conservative” and take in his explanation of why youth is naturally inclined toward liberalism. The task of persuading people of the truths of conservatism involves trying to impart wisdom that usually comes only with age and experience. This requires a lot of artful persuasion, and open, thoughtful minds on the receiving end. Churchill supposedly said, “If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart; if you’re not a conservative at forty you have no brain.” Just tell people you are ahead of your time! (The authenticity of that Churchill quotation is in doubt, but I say use it anyway.)

Which thinkers on the political left do you most respect and why?
—Ben Peterson, Pepperdine University

Michael Sandel, who is a critic of the left from within the left; Robert Putnam, whose work tends to ratify a lot of conservative insights about social order; William Galston, one of the few liberal students of Allan Bloom who respects and engages conservative perspectives; Alan Wolfe on occasion. John Rawls deserves respect and serious reading, as he attempts to justify aggressive egalitarianism within the liberal tradition instead of tearing it down like Marx and today’s nihilist postmodern left. Even if his premises and major steps are wrong, he is the key thinker for much leftist thought today, though I find that few leftists have read him carefully. Finally, Cass Sunstein is the most sophisticated political-legal thinker on the left, and he is dangerous precisely because he can synthesize conservative thinkers like F. A. Hayek into his leftist agenda. I used to enjoy the prose style and unusual arguments of the late Murray Kempton. He was the left’s closest equivalent to William F. Buckley Jr., and some of his old columns are worth reading.

Would you advise a student interested in graduate studies to take a gap year after college or to begin grad school right away?
—Alexis Stypa, Ave Maria University

If you have a clear idea of the academic path you want to take, there is no reason to delay going straight to graduate school. But if you’re not sure, it would be a good idea to work for a year or two, preferably in a job or an internship close to your field of interest (in Washington if you’re interested in political science; for a church group if theology; at a publishing house if history or English; etc.). I worked for two years between college and graduate school and was glad I did.

Is environmentalism, when practiced prudently, a conservative enterprise?
—Chase Padusniak, College of the Holy Cross

Certainly. Conservation and conservatism are etymological twins, and conservatives who are rightly concerned with the conservation of “social ecology” can be just as concerned with the natural or physical ecology of the world around us. It is a great tragedy for nature that the left has monopolized the issue and corrupted it badly. I like to say that the environment is too important to be left to environmentalists—they just screw everything up. Read Roger Scruton’s terrific book How to Think Seriously about the Planet: The Case for an Environmental Conservatism.

What do you think is the greatest obstacle to conservatism in the coming years?
—Caroline Stout, Texas A&M University

The single most important overarching political question at the present time is whether we still think there is such a thing as human nature. The core of postmodernism—and many of the campus enthusiasms about how one’s gender identity is solely a matter of free choice or will—explicitly denies the idea of human nature, though this often comes disguised in an attack on “objectivity,” “social construction” of language and reality, and so forth. The rejection of human nature is catching on slowly in our wider popular culture, and could ultimately bring the ruin of our civilization.

As a college student I have a lot of politically indifferent but impressionable peers. How should I share my conservative values with them without sounding preachy?
—Christopher Kohl, University of Colorado–Boulder

There’s a certain art to reaching politically indifferent but impressionable peers. Your instinct to avoid “preachiness” is sound. In many areas I like the “less is more” approach. More effective than trying an extended argument is offering short, Socratic-style questions or observations that induce your peers to stop and think about something. One specific example: on the minimum wage, you can ask your fellow students in economics why we should think that the supply-and-demand curve doesn’t operate in labor markets as it does for everything else. Or, if fifteen dollars is a good minimum wage, why not twenty-five or fifty dollars? And why not have a minimum grade standard for our classes? It can also be worth sharing short articles by Thomas Sowell, Charles Krauthammer, and other leading conservative thinkers.

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