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Colleges, Fraternities, and ‘Natural Conservatives’

NR‘s Betsy Woodruff asks if fraternity brothers are “natural conservatives”:

Madison Wickham is one of the founders of TotalFratMove.com, a website of dubious literary and educational value that provides content targeted at members of the Greek community. He tells National Review Online that merchandise pitched to conservatives — such as shirts that say “Mitt’s the Tits” and “Back to Back World War Champs” — sells briskly, suggesting that the Greek system contains a strong contingent of young people who lean unabashedly right. Like most members of their cohort, they tend to be socially liberal. But Wickham says Greeks are more likely to have an affinity for conservatism than most young voters.

“It’s become so generic and typical for college students to be liberal,” he says, that the definition of “cool” has almost reversed. “It’s cool to be conservative because everybody’s liberal.”

If that’s a trend, it’s one that wouldn’t have surprised William F. Buckley. And the demographic overlap seems pretty obvious; the archetypal fraternity brother–white, upper-middle class, and socially connected–has clear similarities with the average educated conservative.

But what’s more interesting is the melodramatic sense of embattlement that mimics that of the conservative movement. Fraternities often claim to be up against a hostile culture. In their arguments with a media bent on exposing their very real flaws without noticing their accomplishments, and an overweening administration, they often adopt a stance that might be called, for lack of a better term, positionally conservative. So in that sense I think the more important question isn’t whether frat boys are “naturally conservative”–a charge that’s often deemed patronizing when it’s made about Asian-Americans–but whether college administrations, by their own actions, help to create the skepticism of arbitrary power that lies at the heart of the conservative worldview.

Becoming Righta new sociological study of campus conservatism, also makes the point that it’s there that young activists put their ideology into practice for the first time.

Myself, I was never in a fraternity, but many of the points of contention in Woodruff’s piece are familiar. Back in 2010, the administration at William and Mary tried to ban beer pong and other drinking paraphernalia. The conservative newspaper I wrote for at the time deemed this an affront to liberty, and we responded with one of my all-time favorite staff editorials, “We must rally to restore beer pong!,” which I excerpt for your enjoyment:

“Beer, if drunk with moderation, softens the temper, cheers the spirit and promotes health.” So said Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, and greatest of all the Tribe. It is beyond questioning that when our founding fathers sat down to begin this great experiment of democracy, that it was their original intent that Americans have the liberty to consume alcohol through whatever method they please. In proscribing beer pong, the College has lost touch with what America was meant to be.

This is not the College we grew up with, and if we do not act now, we may never get it back. To that end, The Informer is announcing a Rally to Restore Beer Pong on October 15. Continuing the spirit begun in this very city when men such as Peyton Randolph, Patrick Henry, and George Mason gathered to defend their liberties, we call upon all able-bodied members of the Tribe to gather against a threat just as grave. Even under the tyranny of George III the free consumption of beer was left unmolested. Not even the godless Soviets would dare infringe upon this freedom. Just as those early founders gathered for beer and rum punch at the Raleigh Tavern, we must gather at the College and protest this offense to liberty. …

Some will say that this is an overreaction, and that we are crying wolf against a false enemy. The banning of beer pong, fellow Collegians, is but the first step down a slippery slope to statism and tyranny. We are sounding a clarion call not just against the assault on beer pong, but against further attacks to come. Is this what our founders intended for us? Did George Washington not enjoy a good keg stand? Did the Fifth Virginia Convention not celebrate the Declaration of Independence with a massive beer pong tournament? We must stand our ground here.

Do we wish to be the poor man who can only say, “First they came for beer pong, and I did not speak up because I did not play. Then they came for beer bongs, and I said nothing because I did not own one. Finally, they came for my Solo cups, and no one was inebriated enough to speak out for my drink?” No, surely we do not. Now is the time for action. Restore Honor. Restore Sanity. Restore Beer Pong.

about the author

Arthur Bloom is editor of The American Conservative online. He was previously deputy editor of the Daily Caller and a columnist for the Catholic Herald. He holds masters degrees in urban planning and American studies from the University of Kansas. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The Spectator (UK), The Guardian, Quillette, The American Spectator, Modern Age, and Tiny Mix Tapes.

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