Sixty years ago this September, 100 young conservatives launched Young Americans for Freedom at William F. Buckley’s home in Sharon, Connecticut. There they wrote the Sharon Statement, the new organization’s founding document, which has been described by the New York Times as the “seminal document” of the Conservative Movement. The principles that it puts forth still ring true 60 years later. Today, the Sharon Statement serves as the foundational document for more than 500 YAF chapters nationwide.
In this series, “We, As Young Conservatives, Believe,” we will break down the Sharon Statement and look more closely at how it continues to speak to young Americans today.
“We as young conservatives believe…”
“That foremost among the transcendent values is the individual’s use of his God-given free will, whence derives his right to be free from the restrictions of arbitrary force;”
The Founding Fathers and founders of Young Americans for Freedom both recognized one very important fact: rights do not come from the government. This was true in 1787 when the U.S. Constitution was ratified, was true in 1960 when YAF was formed, is true in 2020, and will still be true in 3020. Rights are inherent to the individual. If the government grants its citizens their rights, then the government can take away those rights whenever it chooses to do so. Indeed, many of history’s worst examples of injustice came about when the government refused to respect its citizens’ inherent rights.
This statement also summarizes the two foundations of modern American conservative thought: 1) people are unique individuals and not merely members of a group, and 2) individuals have inherent, inalienable rights.
Conservatives today have a powerful argument for outreach to students. Recent YAF polls of high school and college students show that they are concerned about a rigged system. In other words, they are concerned about a system in which the rule of law is not enforced equally but rather at the whim of those in power to benefit whomever they want. In order for a free society to function properly, the law needs to be equally applied to all citizens.
Examples of “arbitrary force” are abound today. Take for example, one of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders during the COVID-19 crisis. The order banned stores otherwise open from selling seeds and other garden supplies because they were, in her judgment, not necessary. So, under this order someone could go to the store to buy alcohol or lottery tickets but could not purchase what they need to start a garden at the same store. Politicians deciding which businesses were essential and which were not trampled on individual liberty and the ability to make a judgment for themselves what risks and what precautions to take.
Or, look at the blatant double standards for social distancing requirements in New York City. Mayor de Blasio has praised the mass protests in his city, yet earlier this week an outdoor playground got welded shut because the children playing there were not properly social distancing. If government is going to enforce draconian measures to force everyone to “stay home and save lives,” then those rules cannot be selectively enforced.
If individuals are “to be free from the restrictions of arbitrary force”, the rule of law must be applied evenly. The government cannot enforce laws or executive orders differently against one group of citizens than it does against any other. A law cannot change its meaning with the stroke of a judge’s pen; it must go through the people’s representatives in Congress and the state legislatures. Above all, the government must respect every individual’s rights, chief among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Karl Stahlfeld is the associate director of YAF’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Free Enterprise.