Advice for the young conservative in the modern world.
Welcome to the Vitruvian Life, NR’s weekly advice column for young conservatives in the modern world. Send in your questions about living a balanced, virtuous life: mind, body, and soul. Include your name (anonymous or not), and town in an email to [email protected] Questions might be lightly edited for publication, but they’ll never be made up.
We begin the series today, with a timely question about corporate America, and more:
* * *
How can a conservative survive in today’s corporate environment? Firms push “diversity” training and seem bound to make personnel decisions based on general demographic information. Is it best to keep our conservative views to ourselves and “fake it till we make it”? Would that be staying true to ourselves and our principles? If we opt to not hide our view will we receive backlash, be called bigots, and find ourselves in the unemployment line?
It’s true that those working in any large organization right now — corporate, military, governmental, educational, or nonprofit — are facing an institutional environment hostile or, at best, neutral toward traditional values. That might be “unfair,” but as conservatives, we’re supposed to take the world as it is and make the best of it. If you find yourself working for ACME Inc., here’s the plan:
First, be the best you can possibly be at your job. Be so good — as Steve Martin says — that they can’t ignore you. If the first thing about you that comes to mind for management and your colleagues is, “That guy’s great! He’s an absolute asset to the company,” you’re going to be in better shape if trouble comes.
Second, be a good and generous person. Be quick to help and slow to anger. Go out of your way to mentor the interns and help a colleague move into his new house. Play on your company’s softball team and volunteer to plan Jim from Accounting’s retirement party. And never take credit or draw attention to your efforts. Your colleagues will notice, trust me.
Third, avoid engaging in political arguments at the office. I’m not saying hide your beliefs, but don’t be the guy always arguing about politics or quoting what someone said on Hannity. Reserve politics for friendly discussions over beers at Happy Hour. Engage with colleagues in good faith and with a smile on your face. And don’t aim for total victory or a knockout blow as if you’re debating at the Oxford Union. Leave them asking questions and wanting more. Rather than forcing a Road-to-Damascus moment with the guy sportin’ a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker on his Subaru, your goal should be to bring your colleagues around to your views over months and years. Play the long game, and always, always be a happy warrior.
Fourth, because none of the above assures protection if the mob comes your way, nor is it a guarantee that a task or directive will never cross your desk that violates your principles, you need to have an exit plan. You should decide, now, exactly which lines you will not cross. What’s worth resigning or getting fired over? Figure this out now, while the pressure is off. Then, get out of debt, build up some savings, polish your resume, and maintain your networking contacts. Your goal should be that, if you’re forced out or you need to resign, you get to take a vacation and begin a job search at your leisure without a financial gun to your head. This takes discipline, forethought, and sound planning. Sounds pretty conservative to me.
* * *
My wife and I have a young daughter and live in a place where neither of us grew up. The family around us is either progressive or religious. We’re of the conservative (her) or classical liberal (me) bent, we’re both traditionalists, and we’re both nonbelievers. How do we build community? On one side, I see us staring into the moral void that is Critical Race Theory (CRT); on the other, I see us trespassing on people’s holy spaces and being perpetual strangers to them.
Devoutlessly seeking, Norman, Okla.
I’m the first guy to advise young people that going to church is a great way to build friendships and strong community ties (and the single best way to find a date!). But you’re right: If you’re not religious, then that might not be an option.
The good news is that America is still a fantastic place to plug into the Burkean little platoons of community that don’t necessarily have to be tied to religion.
Volunteer at your town’s animal shelter, join the Stonecutters, become a member at a local art museum and go to all of its weird art functions, start a Neil Diamond tribute band with your friends, conduct a hostile takeover of the governing board of your town’s summer music festival and invite your Neil Diamond tribute band to headline it. The possibilities are endless!
Community is what you make it, and 99 percent of community is showing up.
* * *
I grew up in Sacramento, Calif., and the only reason I have a conservative bone in my body is because I have always gone to church. But as far as political philosophy or politics, I had no formative anything.
Where do I start and what do I do? Is there anyone who makes conservatism look viable and attractive?
Alisa, Medford, Mass.
Well, you found NR, Alisa, so I’d say you’re on the right track.
Let’s talk about building the life of the mind. Whatever you’re interested in, some conservative has probably already written a book (or ten) about it. So read, get grounded, and grow. (The book reviews in the back of the magazine are a great place to start.)
But don’t stop there. The conservative intellectual tradition is rich, in part because it is in constant dialogue with itself. Only by reading widely can you figure out what interests you most, and where within its rich heritage you should place yourself.
If forced to make a single recommendation, I’d tell you to go read Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic. The essay includes the classic, hilarious lampoon of the January 1970 party thrown by Leonard Bernstein in his 13-room Manhattan penthouse to raise money for the Black Panthers Defense Fund. In Christopher Buckley’s telling, Wolfe’s “brilliance was matched by the sheer zest with which he went after his prey. And into the bargain, he was one of us — a conservative. Who’d a thunk it?”