Word got around to Yale students that I was looking for Conservative people to talk politics with me. On a warm, damp night I trekked across town after a delicious and charming dinner at the infamous Sally’s Apizza to meet a member of Yale’s Party of the Right. He seemed a little suspicious of my motives at first, maybe in part because he had only heard of what I am doing second or third hand. I asked him what it meant to him to be a conservative and he said it came down to having a belief in the individual rather than what he described as a fictitious notion of the collective. I was surprised that he laid this statement on the table right away – and told him so – because it has come to be the way I also describe the fundamental difference between the way people on the Left and people on the Right, only I align myself with the collective. Somehow my acknowledgment that I agreed with him seemed to only increase the argumentative tenor of the conversation, instead of creating any feeling of common ground.
I asked him about his background and he told me that he is the son of a Yale Architecture professor and he majors in Philosophy with an emphasis on Continental Philosophy. His family is Liberal, in keeping with the majority of the Yale community. When I asked him about what factors had lead him to align his personal beliefs with the Right he said that growing up he was exposed to too many stupid liberal people and that had inspired him to move in the other political direction. He said everybody at Yale is so arrogant, they haven’t ever really suffered. I wasn’t quite sure what had motivated him to say this and wondered if there was some background story that I had no idea about. I asked him if that statement also applied to him and he replied, “yes, I’ve pretty much got everything I’ve wanted so far in life.”
Then he made a statement that really stood out to me, by saying, “Democracy is a sham.” He explained that what he meant was that power is not really in the hands of the population, nor does he think it should be. He doesn’t believe that the general population is smart enough to be trusted with the responsibility to govern the country. Instead he thinks that faith in Democracy is actually a mechanism to have citizens consent to being governed by the people with real power through making them believe that they have some say in Democratic governance.
He told me about how he had worked for a charity in New Haven that provides healthcare services to people who fall into the difficult mid-zone where they aren’t rich enough to buy adequate health insurance but they aren’t poor enough to receive government assistance. He said charities can do a better job taking care of people than governments and asked why people continue to expect the government to take care of them when it doesn’t do a good job. He said he thinks that liberals grow up believing that government is good and is going to take care of them. I disagreed saying that I think many liberal people grow up feeling that the government is “The Man,” even though at the same time as we recognize it is an essential institution that can do some important things that no other institutional entity can do.
He has recently become interested in what he sees as the real way that power operates, which is behind the scenes through relationships and back-room conversations. I agreed with him that politics and power often function informally through personal persuasion, networks of influence, and raw charisma, but luckily that is not the only way things get done. He started talking about the internal politics of Yale student organizations and I decided to take my leave. It was notable to me how little interest or respect he seemed to have about the world beyond the sphere of Yale, which to me supports an argument for a Democracy where all citizens have a political mechanism to advocate for their own interests. If one group, no matter how educated or intelligent, were to be in charge they would likely be unable to even perceive the crucial concerns that matters to people who do not share their conditions of life.