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Letters to a Young Conservative
By Dinesh D'Souza
Basic Books
HC, 224 pgs., US$22
ISBN: 0-4650-1733-9

A conservative student's field manual

By Steven Martinovich
web posted February 10, 2003

Letters to a Young ConservativeHigher education can be a lonely place for a conservative. Colleges and universities are a center of power for the left and a conservative who dares to raise their voice can suffer the consequences. Student newspapers carrying unpopular opinions are often stolen and destroyed, fellow students will threaten reprisals and even the faculty can conspire to make a conservative's life difficult.

It's not surprising then that conservative students often keep their mouths shut for four years and maintain as low a profile as possible when it comes to politics. It is only the daring few who rise up to the challenge of injecting real intellectual diversity on campus. One of those people was Dinesh D'Souza.

For D'Souza that took the form of co-founding The Dartmouth Review and tweaking the noises of the left at every opportunity. D'Souza fearlessly took on both his fellow students and the faculty in an attempt to promote the conservative agenda and inspire his fellow students to action. Those experiences form the basis of Letters to a Young Conservative, a guidebook of sorts to the future leaders of the conservative movement.

University today is a battering ram of the mind for the left. Young skulls full of mush, as Rush Limbaugh would say, often enter higher education with barely formed world views. They are ripe for conversion by academics and their peers for any number of reasons -- whether to fit in or impress a professor -- and many leave after four years as full members of the liberal fraternity. It is essential then that conservative leaders develop their ideas and strategies to mitigate the advantages these left possesses.

That's where D'Souza comes in. His central point throughout Letters to a Young Conservative is that the facts are on our side. By exposing liberal ideas to the harsh light of truth, he argues, a young conservative can become an intellectual guerrilla. It can be a lonely fight but it's always a worthwhile one.

Taking the form of letters to fictional student named Chris, D'Souza begins by laying out the basic tenets of conservatism. The early chapters aren't the equivalent of Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind, but then again they aren't meant to be. In several quick chapters D'Souza lays the groundwork by illustrating conservative, liberal and libertarian concepts and language. Most importantly, he shows how each side defines the concept of freedom, central to the conservative cause.

"Both groups believe in a certain kind of freedom. What really distinguishes conservatives from liberals is not that one is for freedom and the other is against freedom; rather, what separates them is that they have different substantive views of what constitutes the good life."

From there D'Souza takes on a number of controversial topics ranging from abortion to gun control, illustrating how conservatives and liberals tend to view the issues. Throughout, D'Souza relates his often humorous anecdotes of how he and his band of fellow conservatives promoted their views in the face of open hostility from students, the faculty and the administration. The key to successfully fighting them off, he repeatedly points out, is arming yourself with the truth and being persistent.

It's important to remember that you likely won't be changing the minds of the liberals dedicated to their cause. They have a lot of emotional and intellectual capital invested in their distorted world views and all the reasoned arguments in the world aren't going to make them see the light. What young conservative activists have to understand their efforts will give other conservatives and politically ambiguous students an opportunity to express their ideas because they now know they aren't alone.

Letters to a Young Conservative is a book I only wish existed when I entered university in 1991. My fight as a columnist at a student newspaper against the radical leftists that dominated the university I attended was a lonely one at first. Soon my efforts began paying off as my celebrity on campus inspired others to challenge the status quo. Despite that, had I Letters to a Young Conservative I wouldn't have had to reinvent several wheels to get the message out. I could have learned from an earlier soldier's experience.

D'Souza's manual is the perfect antidote for a student confronted by the liberal hegemony that challenges them when they walk through those hallways the first day and are confronted by the protests being organized, the petitions being passed around and the way issues are debated. Part strategy guide and part moral booster, Letters to a Young Conservative is an invaluable and highly entertaining resource and probably the best gift you can buy for someone about to enter university or badly in need of inspiration if they are already there.

Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario.

Buy Dinesh D'Souza's Letters to a Young Conservative for only $15.40 (30% off)

Other related stories: (open in a new window)

  • Q&A with Dinesh D'Souza (February 10, 2003)
    Dinesh D'Souza sits down for a few questions about the importance of conservatism, feminism and reparations

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