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 the forces of international Communism are, at present, the greatest single threat to these liberties;”
A few years ago this clause seemed to be an anachronism. Since the Berlin Wall fell over 30 years ago Communism appeared vanquished. The Soviet Union collapsed and the communist dictatorships in eastern Europe that had been propped up by Moscow were replaced by democracies. There was a joke at the time that the only place you could find a socialist was at the Harvard faculty lounge. The West, led by the United States, had won the Cold War.
Even outside the former Soviet Union Communism was in retreat. China, which had been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party since shortly after the end of the Second World War, began to liberalize its economy in the early 1990s. As Speaker Newt Gingrich noted in his speech last year at the University of Southern California, the common consensus was that as China increased its economic freedom, political freedom would soon follow.
However, political freedom has not followed. Instead, the Chinese Communist Party has been using new technology to ever more closely monitor its citizens and maintain its tight grip over their lives. Leaders of the Hong Kong protests have been arrested for speaking out against new laws that restrict Hong Kong’s independence. Speaker Gingrich noted in his speech that it was not uncommon for anyone who said anything negative about the Chinese government to disappear for a time before eventually reappearing to make a public apology. The Chinese government has been holding possibly a million Uighurs in ‘re-education camps’ in the Xinjiang province. The Uighurs have been forcibly sterilized, and new reports suggest that doctors have even been killing newborn babies.
Now, repressing political speech and holding a million members of a minority population in what amount to concentration camps is more than enough cause for concern. However, the Chinese Communist Party isn’t only wielding its power within its own borders. They have been aggressively looking to expand their influence around the globe in a variety of ways. For example, China loans money to poor countries through their Belt and Road Initiative. While this may appear to be generous on its face, it has enabled China to trap smaller countries with a massive debt to be repaid, which they can use as leverage for their other goals.
China’s economic practices have also been felt by the United States and its allies. U.S. companies have had their intellectual property stolen by Chinese companies for years, which has been a key part of the escalating tensions over trade with China. This has also been happening on college campuses. Recently, a professor at Ohio State University was arrested for using U.S. government funds for research for China.
The Chinese Communist Party has also used its economy as a means of silencing foreign speech that it doesn’t like. Before public outrage forced it to change its practice, the NBA prevented anyone from buying a custom jersey with the slogan FreeHongKong. Elsewhere in the world, China threatened Australia with severe economic retaliation if Australia continued its push to investigate the beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The United States is about to have a rival that can challenge it globally for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union. It is clear that the consensus of the 1990s and 2000s was wrong and that China is not about to become a liberal democracy. Instead, the Chinese Communist Party is using its new wealth and technology to restrict individual liberty, both in its own country and abroad. Unless there is a drastic change, a new Cold War may have arrived.
To read the previous post in this series, click here.
To read the next post in this series, click here.
Karl Stahlfeld is the associate director of YAF’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Free Enterprise.