What Gets Conservative Kids Excited?

So…what do conservative college students get excited about? Monarchism, apparently. That’s the word from conservative stalwart Patrick Henry College, at least. And, as I found in the research for my upcoming book about conservative evangelical higher education, today’s monarchist enthusiasts are joining a long tradition at conservative schools. I can’t help but wonder if today’s college presidents will respond the way presidents always have responded.

It might just be hopeful dreaming, but at National Review Jeff Cimmino argues that young students at conservative colleges are jumping on to the traditionalist bandwagon. Mostly, at schools such as Hillsdale, Patrick Henry, as well as at mainstream schools such as Notre Dame, smart young conservatives are discovering the work of Russell Kirk, Edmund Burke, and other traditionalists.

There are also kookier ideas floating around student lounges. Christian McGuire, the student editor of a conservative review at Patrick Henry College, reported loads of enthusiasm for conservative Catholic thinking and Russell Kirk. But that’s not all. According to Cimmino,

When asked whether monarchist sentiments could be found on campus, McGuire responded firmly: “Yes, absolutely.” Though still very much a minority view at Patrick Henry College, some traditionalist-minded students are open to the idea of a king.

A king! Zoiks. It sounds kooky, but as I discovered in my recent research in the archives of other conservative evangelical schools, such student intellectual enthusiasms are nothing new.

Cimmino doesn’t mention it, but monarchism and Burkeanism have not been the most potent intellectual traditions that have excited young evangelical intellectuals. Time and again, students at evangelical schools have discovered—as if it were new—the bracing intellectual rigor of Calvinism.

I include in my book, for example, the story of Calvinist dissent at Wheaton College in the 1930s and 1940s. Back then, high-flying scholar Gordon Clark accepted a job at Wheaton. Clark had an Ivy-League PhD and the kind of elite academic credentials evangelical colleges like Wheaton yearned for.

But Clark’s Calvinism rubbed along awkwardly in the interdenominational world of 1930s American fundamentalism. As soon as he arrived, Clark started a “Creed Club” on campus. His brainy Calvinism excited and attracted plenty of Wheaton students. But Clark’s unyielding intellect made him unpopular with the administration.

Callow Calvinist students began protesting, for example, that Wheaton placed far too much emphasis on missionary work. And they began adopting Clark’s dismissive attitude toward campus revivalism. Like their hero Professor Clark, students began deriding such things as mere “mass psychology.”

What did Wheaton do? In 1943, they showed Clark the door. They loved his resume, but they couldn’t accept the notion that their students were pooh-poohing ideas so near and dear to the heart of American fundamentalism. If such student enthusiasms got too much attention, Wheaton worried it would lose support from the fundamentalist community.

Could that pattern repeat itself?

At Patrick Henry, especially, administrators might get nervous if students veer to the right of their school’s goal of reclaiming America for Christ.

What would Patrick Henry leaders do, for example, if over-enthusiastic student monarchists began pooh-poohing American Constitutionalism? If they bruited about the idea that republicanism itself—Americanism itself—was nothing but a mistake to be corrected?

Maybe I’ve spent too much time in the archives of university presidents, but I can’t help but think that Patrick Henry’s leaders would have to put a stop to such things, worried about what it might do to their school’s reputation as an outpost of more-American-than-thou religious conservatism.

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  1. Monarchism and weird throne and altar politics never quite left France and other European countries. In the US they have long been fashionable among fringe romantic reactionaries, typically Catholic antimodernists. Neo-reactionary architects like “Mencius Moldbug” are the new development today where these old monarchist traditions are appropriated by secular and religious techno libertarians. It’s bizarre but real and spreading.

    Becoming a king of an artificial archipelago or a separatist California is a real possibility in the not-normal minds of super-rich people like Peter Thiel. Thiel and the world of NRx has always had connections to the old right and religious right. I wouldn’t discount their ability to “make it OK” for some colleges on the right to go farther into extremism.

    Within more traditional religious conservative camps, there is also a greater openness to rejection of US constitutionalism as a rigged liberal game adrift from theonomic norms. Calls for a new constitutional convention from the far right may be fringe but they have grown, not abated. There is a sincere effort to achieve a new national charter through state legislatures.

    People who feel the constitution has been perverted and turned into a suicide pact for white Christian America can be expected to revolt from, not conform to constitutional norms, and unforeseen events may give them opportunities. Right now it’s only the right making goal shots.

    Finally, if you look at how the religious right and general public has long imaged the presidency as a kingship that is not representative of the general will but of the will of God (and the people who truly serve him), it is difficult to dismiss what this indicates about their conception of a constitutional republic.

  2. As a postscript it’s worth mentioning that The American Conservative was co-founded by a Greek Monarchist, “Taki” Theodoracopulos, along with Pat Buchanan. Taki and other openly white supremacist Buchananites (i.e., Peter Brimelow, Sam Francis, later John Derbyshire — all at one time writers for The National Review) broke away to form Taki’s Magazine, where Richard Spencer and related figures culled from groups like Young Americans from Freedom and the National Review were incubated and first expressed their racist ideas. Austin Bramwell, Buckley’s heir apparent at the National Review, deconverted from neoconservatism and briefly wrote articles critical of his former views and associations for Taki. Taki for his part has supported or provided cover for the Greek far right Golden Dawn and has friends at the UK’s Spectator. Brimelow had a book on Canadian nationalism that was ideologically important to the rise of Harper’s Conservatives. Francis was the architect of Buchanan’s strategy that many feel was best executed by Trump.

    This is at once to describe a margin, or a fringe — but that does not imply a lack of dynamism, influence, talent, or growth. Taki’s publication overlaps ideas, readers and writers with Francis and Brimelow’s VDARE, as well as American Renaissance, and Occidental Observer — the older journals of neoracist reaction with GOP and (US, UK) Tory lineages. Similar, newer media and networks have grown to form the “alt-right” in the past ten years. Among them there are always self-styled “monarchists,” which I take as a “more radical than you” tag for some on the right — a radically reactionary right where the Constitution we know (as opposed to the Constitution people like John Calhoun wanted) is not held in high regard.

  1. Fundamentalist U & Me: Christian McGuire, Patrick Henry College | I Love You but You're Going to Hell

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