Dear college freshmen, here’s how to figure out your politics

For many people, college is the first real introduction to politics. (Or maybe the second, if we’re counting your crazy uncle’s Thanksgiving dinner rants.)

Videos by Rare

Your roommate may be sounding you out on hot button issues. Your political science professors have probably let you know what their own perspective is. And—at least if my coworkers at Young Americans for Liberty are doing their jobs right—there are all kinds of political groups on campus trying to get you to join their club and share their views.

It can be overwhelming. But don’t panic.

When I got to college, I was absolutely clueless about political labels, frustrated that Facebook (at that time) only allowed you to choose from “conservative,” “liberal,” and “moderate.” At one point, I remember I agreed with a professor’s suggestion that maybe I was a neocon—mainly because I hadn’t the faintest idea what that meant.

But as time went on, I started researching my options.

The unlimited internet access of college—a step up from the never-ending AOL free trial scheme I had going on at home—was a big help, and the more I read and researched, the more libertarian I became.

If you’re in the same position of trying to figure out where you stand, here are a few suggestions for determining your own political beliefs:

1. Consider working on an issue-by-issue basis

What I mean is this: Pick a single policy area. It can be fairly broad (e.g. foreign policy, including our various wars, drones, etc.) or fairly narrow (e.g. the TSA).

Read up and follow news primarily on that single issue for a set period of time. Try to look at perspectives to the left and right of you, both modern and historic. Keep a running blog series or even just a Word doc with the important facts and interesting perspectives you encounter.

2. At the end of your set period of time, hash it out

Having looked at the evidence and persuasive arguments from people who disagree with each other, where do you fall? Don’t worry if right now, for example, your opinion on Issue A is more conservative and your opinion on Issue B is more progressive. Just make sure you’ve given all sides a fair shake and could explain to someone with no expertise on the subject you’re discussing why you think the position you’ve taken is the most convincing option.

Do this repeatedly for multiple issues on which you’ve changed your mind more than once. Maybe give them each a month, depending on your schedule.


3. When you’ve gone through all the issues you think it’s necessary to examine in this way, step back and look at the big picture

Are you philosophically consistent across issues, or do hypocrisies jump out at you? If they do, you may need to go back to the drawing board and look at some of your issues in relation to each other rather than in isolation.


4. Then, see where you fall overall

Of course, always remember that fitting into a single political label—conservative, liberal, libertarian, anarchist, socialist, or whatever—ultimately isn’t what’s most important. For example, I know lots of people who say they feel conservative around libertarians and libertarian around conservatives. Rather than identifying entirely with any one group’s views, your goal should be to find a place of conviction where you can more or less stay. That resting place should be philosophically consistent, feel intellectually honest, and match your broader system of ethics.

5. Be ready to reevaluate

At this point, you’ve reached a political resting place—not an end result. Because while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with holding strong (and even idealistic) political views at a young age, I’d suggest that unless you’re a super-genius, there probably is something wrong with keeping forever the exact same political views and level of knowledge that you have as a college freshman.

It’s just that 17 or 18 is pretty young, and as you gain more life experience and learn more about the political issues which are important to you, your views will likely evolve and become more nuanced. At the grand old age of 26, my views certainly continue to grow and hopefully mature around a central commitment to liberty.

I can’t promise that follow this process will make you certain about your politics. In fact, I’d say we can never be completely sure that all our views are correct—that’s why being open to change is so important.

But I can tell you that college is unique as a period in your life where you’ll have the time and opportunity to do all this reading and thinking. You’ll have professors at your disposal who will be eager to recommend resources to guide your research. And you’ll have thoughtful friends and campus clubs to challenge and enhance your conclusions.

Whatever else you do these next four years, take advantage of this embarrassment of riches and figure out your politics.

What do you think?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Obama to give big ISIS speech on Wednesday

Missouri legislature may overturn Nixon’s veto, pass 72-hour abortion wait