Sunday, July 6, 2003

Letters to a Young Conservative, by Dinesh D'Souza

Ray Cooklis
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Our political labels, at least as they are used in the media, have become distorted beyond usefulness. What is conservative? What is liberal? And what do we say when it comes to issues where these supposed polar opposites meet?

It is this point with which Dinesh D'Souza begins this book of essays on modern conservatism cast as letters to a college student: In the classical sense that harkens back to the ancient Greeks, a liberal is a champion of liberty, one who advances freedom - political, economic and personal - by limiting government and maximizing the individual's potential. Sound familiar?

Modern American conservatism now operates under an inherent irony, seeking to conserve classical liberalism - and a revolutionary tradition of liberty - by (often) challenging the established order in government and academia.

D'Souza, the India-born, Dartmouth-educated author of such assumption-shatterers as Illiberal Education and The End of Racism, tackles this maze of hijacked and misappropriated concepts with zest. He skewers what he sees as a hypocritical bias on many college campuses, bogus "multiculturalism" and the real version, the fraud within postmodernist thought, the flaws in feminist and environmentalist politics, the political bias of the media and more. He argues that the rising tide of techno-capitalism has lifted all boats economically, and gives the figures to back it up. He provides thoughtful analyses of affirmative action, gun control and judicial activism.

D'Souza's short, almost aphoristic essays are imbued with an elegant clarity. His witty critiques of the left can be razor-sharp, but they lack the shrill meanness that so often passes for political discourse these days. They are aimed at today's undergraduates, who certainly could use a clear, cogent precis of a point of view they may not be getting on campus. Had some of their counterparts in the late '60s and early '70s been able to read D'Souza, Americans now might care less about being entitled and more about being empowered, and we might be a bit farther along the road toward a society blessed with a more authentic sense of diversity, tolerance, equality - and liberty.

Books that might have changed the world
Off With Their Heads, by Dick Morris
Eleanor of Aquitaine, by Alison Weir
The Emperor of Ocean Park, by Stephen L. Carter
The Press Effect, by Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Paul Waldman
A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson
Letters to a Young Conservative, by Dinesh D'Souza

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