The Future of Campus Conservatism: An Interview with Arthur Milikh

March 8, 2022

Arthur Milikh

Executive Director

The following is an interview between Digital Editor of the Review Lintaro Donovan and Arthur Milikh (AM), Executive Director of The Claremont Institute’s Center for the American Way of Life. Previously, he served as Associate Director of the Center for American Studies and AWC Family Foundation Fellow at The Heritage Foundation. Before Heritage, he worked at the House Committee on Armed Services and at The Hudson Institute. This interview was originally published by The Dartmouth Review on March 7, 2022.

TDR: Jordan Peterson has advised a generation of right-wing youth to ‘clean their own rooms’ before seeking to change the world. Does this view have any merit?

AM: Learn to rule yourself before you can rule anything else. Yes, make your bed, but also look and speak like a serious person. Don’t speak or think in trendy ways. More importantly, you should always be in control of your passions. And, with the help of friends and the greatest books, you should think through the opinions given to you by the authorities that rule our society today. Nothing serious is possible without a disciplined mind, even for the most talented. Many have squandered great intellectual gifts without it. But have some levity, too. Nothing is hated more by your enemies than humor.

Should right-wing youth be involved in politics at all? Or should they instead focus on non-political action, e.g. marrying, having many kids, moving up in existing institutions?

They should do both, of course. You can’t hide in the woods with your family; that’s an illusion. Nor should you want to. Your country will be taken from you if you are not active and serious. Such a statement sounded alarmist to many normal people 20 years ago, and since then the Right has lost nearly every major national institution, and more. Who back then would have thought that the higher-ups in the military (the “adults” as they like to call themselves) would be openly woke? You must be political, even if you ultimately don’t have a political career. You’ve been forced into this situation, but you should now embrace it. In everything you do think politically—like a free citizen—not as a small, private individual. The Right lost much of what it had by thinking like small, private people, hoping troubles would go away. 

Should conservative students be ‘out and proud’ and attempt to convince their peers of right-wing viewpoints? If not, how should conservative students act in a university environment?

You should not hide all your views, but neither should you become an agitator in the typical sense. Nor should you self-immolate. You are told that you must respect whatever intellectual trends rule at the moment. But you should laugh at and contradict them. The patina of prestige is wearing off of the university-industrial complex; it’s seen by many as fraudulent. Good. Give it a push. But be respectful toward the genuinely intelligent and curious—seek them out; have contempt for the frauds. 

What is the purpose of campus conservatism when campuses have been captured by the Left?

Part of it is questioning the legitimacy of what those institutions have become. Is there much deep learning in them, or are they consumed by self-worship, moral manias, and hucksters feigning seriousness? Part of it is giving yourself time to think, read, and make real friends.

If you were in charge of a conservative student or youth organization, what would you expend resources on accomplishing?

Creating strong, powerful, exclusive networks of like-minded conservatives. This is partly done by bringing to campus genuinely smart people to train you to see and think more clearly and deeply. No more shout-down campus-talk spectacles. Those have their place, but the time has come for building up our side’s brainpower, networks, and strategy. Make actual friends, rather than hangout, sportsball, drinking buddies. Those are great, but they go away quickly. Also, find a spouse worthy of you, and be worthy of them.

How can right-wing youth begin taking back higher education? Is a reconquest of the university even possible or optimal?

Yes, it’s possible to some degree. Many campuses, as you know, no longer belong to you. They view you as irrelevant, or as an irritant, or as an enemy. The Right has tried to expose them, and it is now rather clear to many what’s taking place. More interesting now is the next step: defunding them. There is no reason why decent taxpayers should be defrauded by subsidizing institutions which often harm the nation. This is a serious weak point and must be explored. 

Outside of higher education, what, if any, institutions should conservatives focus on taking back? 

The game is in the states. Forget chasing 90s dreams of going to New York City, San Francisco, or Los Angeles. Go to your home state, build it up, take it over.

What hope, if any, do you see for conservative attempts to create our own institutions or replace existing, liberal ones? Examples include Freedom Phone, Gab/Parler, and the University of Austin.

I’m hopeful about the brewing enthusiasm and the work being done. But such alternatives must be created for patriotic causes, not just to turn a buck. They must be unblinkingly conservative, and they must parallel those institutions out of which the Right will likely be shut out soon. Banking, law, finance, etc. You should have ambitions to found your own institutions, the boundaries of which you fiercely defend. You shouldn’t aspire to be a law firm partner, but to found your own law firm. Same with banks. The other institutions which cannot be paralleled must be forced into neutrality.

If you had complete control over the American conservative movement, what would you do?

Play for keeps.