Class on conservatism provides balance at UVa.

Story by Chris Graham

Wes Siler noticed the offering in the course catalogue at the University of Virginia, and he was fine with there being a class called Modern Liberalism. What bothered him – where was Modern Conservatism?

“I thought, Why not have a class on Modern Conservatism and balance out the spectrum, and make it fair for students who want to learn about ideas in conservatism?” said Siler, a fourth-year student who will be graduating from the University in a few weeks with a degree in foreign affairs.

Which is to say that Siler won’t be able to enroll in the two-credit class on Modern Conservatism that he has helped launch at UVa. The class, initiated under the auspices of UVa.’s Student-Initiated Course Program, will begin in the fall.

Siler will go active-duty in the United States Air Force in October. Between now and then, he’ll be working with fellow students Rick Eberstadt and Keenan Davis on finishing the development of the Modern Conservatism class.

The syllabus features a wide variety of authors and public figures, including Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, Fredrick Hayek, Milton Friedman and former presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. What they had to say and do in the public-policy sphere represents a canon of political and social thought that does not receive serious consideration in much of academia today, the student group says.

“There is a huge need for students to hear the different perspectives of conservative belief and the ideas that are normally disregarded in the university classroom,” Siler said. “We are changing this at our university, and we hope to inspire students around the country to do the same.”

“We spent many hours considering the trajectory that conservative thought followed over the last century,” Davis said. “Our course focuses on the rise of different conservative movements within their historical context, comparing and contrasting their themes and origins.”

The class is currently scheduled to seat 40 students, but based on early interest, the student leaders say, the limit may be raised to 100.

“More than 40 students quickly joined a Facebook group we made for the course – and this happened before we began any official promotion. There’s clearly a high demand from many students on campus for an education in conservatism,” Eberstadt said.

And it’s not just young conservatives expected to fill the seats.

“This a great chance for all students, both liberal and conservative, who haven’t had exposure to the sophisticaed arguments behind our beliefs,” Siler said. “For me personally, I’ve studied the liberal side. I’ve studied a lot of the ideas that have come through liberalism, and I respect them for what they are. I disagree with most of them, but at the same time, it doesn’t offend me to read their books and listen to them. I’ll read Karl Marx, and that’s fine with me. I’ll pick out things that I disagree with, and I’ll respectfully disagree.

“There’s nothing wrong with listening to these ideas and respecting people that you don’t see eye to eye with. That’s what civility is all about, and it’s what democracy is all about,” Siler said.

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