This article was first published in the September 24, 1960, issue of National Review under Mr. Buckley’s semi-regular column “The Ivory Tower.” It was accompanied by the text of the “Sharon Statement,” written by the late M. Stanton Evans. We publish this article as part of our Fall 2017 webathon effort. You can find more about that effort here.
September 24, 1960
The Young Americans for Freedom
A new organization was born last week and just possibly it will influence the political future of this country, as why should it not, considering that its membership is young, intelligent, articulate and determined, its principles enduring, its aim to translate these principles into political action in a world which has lost its moorings and is looking about for them desperately?
One wonders why an organized conservative political youth movement was not begun before, so naturally does it fit, now that it is on the scene, and so plain is the need for it. It could be that the nonexistence of such an organization ten years ago is fortunate, for it might have piled on the rocks. It is only in the last decade that American conservatism has been freed from the exclusive hold which the narrow dogmas of vested business interests had upon it. The National Association of Manufacturers is a splendid organization that has accomplished a great deal of good; but it is wrong to suppose that it was ever equipped to generate a Weltanschauung which could galvanize the intellectual, creative and moral energies of students who had been indoctrinated over thirty years by their teachers to believe that conservatism was merely a highbrow word for the profit system — that there was nothing in conservatism beyond the vaults of the Chase National Bank.
The Young Americans for Freedom have the benefit of perspectives which ten years ago could only have been intuited. In ten years much has happened. History proved the irrelevance of Liberal doctrine. The critique of Liberalism has been made, if not definitively, at least sufficiently; and it is a total critique. The word “conservatism” is accepted both by Russell Kirk and Frank Meyer as designating their distinct but complementary, even symbiotic positions. In the last ten years more important books have been written than there is time here to catalogue, books of journalistic, philosophical, economic, historical and cultural import — all of them concentrically pointing an accusing finger at the tottering idols of Liberalism. The great renewal of the last decade is reflected in the nuances in the Young Americans’ statement of first principles, which is reproduced on the next page. Here is mention of the moral aspect of freedom; of transcendent values; of the nature of man. All this together with a tough-as-nails statement of political and economic convictions which Richard Nixon couldn’t read aloud without fainting.
The students were called to the founding conference in Sharon, Connecticut, by Douglas Caddy, until recently a student at Georgetown University, now with the McGraw-Edison Committee for Public Affairs in New York. Ninety students turned up from 24 states, representing 44 colleges. The age limits for members were set in the original draft of the by-laws at between 16 and 28; but the conference overruled the committee and with a low bow to the achievements of geriatrics, moved the old age limit up to 35, and made at least this bystander feel young again. Caddy was elected National Director, and all inquiries should be addressed to him at 343 Lexington Avenue, New York 16, N. Y. Enclose a dollar bill, if you want to help with the cost of setting the organization up. Robert Schuchman of the Yale Law School is chairman. There are six regional directors. In the Northeast it is Walter McLaughlin Jr. of the Harvard Law School. For the Central Atlantic states, Robert Harley of Georgetown University. For the South, George Gaines of Tulane University. For the West, Dick Noble of Stanford University. For the Southwest, Jim Kolbe of Northwestern University, and for the Midwest, Robert Croll, also of Northwestern University. The twelve members of the Board of Directors are David Franke (New School for Social Research), Richard Cowan (Yale), Tom Colvin (Davidson), Carol Dawson (Washington, D. C.), Carl McIntire (Shelton), Bill Madden (Holy Cross), William Schulz (Antioch), James Abstine (Indiana), Howard Phillips (Harvard), Scott Stanley Jr. (University of Kansas Law School), Lee Edwards (press assistant to Senator John Marshall Butler) and Herbert Kohler (Knox).
What will the Young Americans for Freedom do? What did the Young Socialists do? What do the Students for Industrial Democracy do? The American Youth for Democracy? The Students for Democratic Action? The Left never lacked for things to do; neither does the Right. Every chapter of YAFF in every college will shape a program rooted in the principal concerns of its own campus; except that no one will be accepted as a member who does not endorse the Sharon Statement. There will be annual meetings. Perhaps they will find the funds to publish a newsletter. They will have the help of the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists, a non-political organization whose aim it is to advance an understanding of freedom at the college level.
But what is so striking in the students who met at Sharon is their appetite for power. Ten years ago the struggle seemed so long, so endless, even, that we did not even dream of victory. Even now the world continues to go left, but all over the land dumbfounded professors are remarking the extraordinary revival of hard conservative sentiment in the student bodies. It was Goldwater, not Nixon or Eisenhower, who was the hero of the bright and dominant youth forces at the Chicago Convention. It is quixotic to say that they or their elders have seized the reins of history. But the difference in psychological attitude is tremendous. They talk about affecting history; we have talked about educating people to want to affect history. It may be that, as Russell Kirk keeps reminding us, the Struggle Availeth. No one would doubt it who talked to the founding fathers of the Young Americans for Freedom.
The Sharon Statement
Adopted by the Young Americans for Freedom in conference at Sharon, Conn., September 9–11, 1960
In this time of moral and political crisis, it is the responsibility of the youth of America to affirm certain eternal truths.
We, as young conservatives, believe:
That foremost among the transcendent values is the individual’s use of his God-given free will, whence derives his right to be free from the restrictions of arbitrary force;
That liberty is indivisible, and that political freedom cannot long exist without economic freedom;
That the purpose of government is to protect those freedoms through the preservation of internal order, the provision of national defense, and the administration of justice;
That when government ventures beyond these rightful functions, it accumulates power, which tends to diminish order and liberty;
That the Constitution of the United States is the best arrangement yet devised for empowering government to fulfill its proper role, while restraining it from the concentration and abuse of power;
That the genius of the Constitution — the division of powers — is summed up in the clause that reserves primacy to the several states, or to the people in those spheres not specifically delegated to the Federal government;
That the market economy, allocating resources by the free play of supply and demand, is the single economic system compatible with the requirements of personal freedom and constitutional government, and that it is at the same time the most productive supplier of human needs;
That when government interferes with the work of the market economy, it tends to reduce the moral and physical strength of the nation, that when it takes from one to bestow on another, it diminishes the incentive of the first, the integrity of the second, and the moral autonomy of both;
That we will be free only so long as the national sovereignty of the United States is secure; that history shows periods of freedom are rare, and can exist only when free citizens concertedly defend their rights against all enemies;
That the forces of international Communism are, at present, the greatest single threat to these liberties;
That the United States should stress victory over, rather than coexistence with this menace; and
That American foreign policy must be judged by this criterion: does it serve the just interests of the United States?”