By Mary Eberstadt | The Wall Street Journal
ILLUSTRATION: MARTIN KOZLOWSKI
The woke claim to own you simply by virtue of your youth. You are overdue for upward moral mobility.
As the election results of 2021 suggest a chill in the air for the left, the time has come to talk to younger voters—millennials and Generation Z—about America’s future. The message can be distilled in a single sentence: You’ve been robbed.
You have been robbed of something treasured by millions of less-literate Americans before you: knowledge and appreciation of your own country, and its symphonic, tumultuous, sometimes riven and always illuminating history.
According to some of today’s loudest and most influential voices, the U.S. is an irredeemable cesspool of racism and bigotry. This lie has resulted in a wide patriotism gap. In 2020, according to one poll, under a quarter of Democrats surveyed said they were extremely proud to be American, as opposed to almost three-quarters of Republicans. Only a third of Americans your age say the same.
Ask yourselves why. Most of us wouldn’t trash-talk our families. Most of us wouldn’t trash-talk our neighborhoods. Think about that the next time someone trash-talks your national home and neighborhood, your country.
One such figure, impresario of the New York Times’s “1619 Project,” says she has never regarded herself as “particularly patriotic.” Another, whose sulfurous racialism permeates elite education, says that he has never felt free in the U.S., even as his every grievance is celebrated and subsidized. If they have such a low opinion of America, what makes you think they care about Americans—including you?
Many of today’s young have been robbed, too, of another source of immaterial wealth: the consolations and joys of family life. This theft is due in part to generational arithmetic. Today’s younger adults hail from smaller networks of kinship than earlier generations. You are more likely to have lacked a father at home and to have had fewer siblings, cousins, uncles and aunts than your forbears.
The family deficit is also a consequence of ideas. Generations of thinkers have disparaged the family as the enemy of utopian schemes. In their depictions, home and hearth amount to a slaughterhouse of dreams and aspirations, especially for women. To the contrary: Unprecedented rates of abortion, fatherlessness and divorce, far from liberating you, have subtracted actual and potential loved ones from your lives. No wonder surveys show that young people are the loneliest Americans.
Some of you have been robbed of another rich inheritance: organized religion. Men and women throughout the ages concluded that humanity exists within some form of a sacred order. Alongside that understanding of the divine flourished the greatest art and science, architecture and music and human creation at large that our species has ever devised. Permanent membership in “none of the above” secularism risks relinquishing your own cultural inheritance: Western civilization.
This brings us to the political choice before you. Today’s neo-Marxism and identity politics seek to co-opt your youthful energies into a lifetime of performative rancor. Is that what you want?
The left tells you that your fellow citizens are racists, fascists, sexists, bigots and haters. This relentless negativity obliterates youthful hopes. It shrivels the youthful imagination. Worst of all, it shrinks your hearts.
Young people are designed by nature to love and to be loved with energy and magnanimity. Today’s misanthropes tell you the opposite: that humanity is a toxin on the planet, unworthy of reproduction. This counsel couldn’t be more wrong—especially for you. If loneliness is the problem, putting more people in your lives with marriage and children is the self-evident solution.
The woke arrogantly claim to own you simply by virtue of your youth. That’s because they have a lot to sell you, in commerce as well as politics. Corporations fly under cool-kid flags to market harmful products. Consider the hawking of marijuana to your demographic. Or how some tech companies have succeeded in addicting millions to social media, with harrowing consequences we’re only beginning to understand. All these lurches for your wallet might make you question the left’s authority.
Conservatism isn’t a monolith. Conservatives disagree over all sorts of ideas and policies, at times profoundly. That’s the point. Diverse as it is, conservatism is one community where you will find authentic debate—even as sanity and agreement on a few big things still prevail.
In place of today’s cynical exploitation of race, conservatism says Martin Luther King Jr. In place of identity politics that flies under rival banners and denies our common home, it says only the American flag should fly over a U.S. Embassy. In place of ever more fastidiously defined factions, it says one nation indivisible. And in place of indifference to the sufferings incurred by family decline, family subversion and postmodern cultural chaos, conservatism seeks revival.
This is the room where the grown-ups are. This is where you deserve to be too—you who know from the inside your generation’s poignant realities. You are overdue for the restoration of America’s undiminished promise and for upward moral mobility.
Ms. Eberstadt holds a chair in Christian culture at the Catholic Information Center and is a senior research fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute. She is author of “Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics.” This article is adapted from a speech she delivered at the National Conservatism Conference.