Over the last decade, millennials have been characterized as filled with a sense of entitlement, lazy, and disillusioned. In the past year they have acquired another label: socialist.
As a Millennial myself, I have witnessed many of my well-educated peers give impassioned devotion to Senator Bernie Sanders and his brand of democratic socialism. My generation’s current infatuation with socialism goes deeper than the promise of “free college,” and their understanding of economics requires much remedial work. In order to change their hearts and minds, those who believe in liberty must begin to appeal to Millennials’ righteous aspirations and show them what a free and virtuous society can provide.
Sanders’ endorsement of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton came as a shock to Millennials, who were completely sold on the idea that our nation was going to see an economic and social transformation through the movement of democratic socialism. The agenda of his campaign was to take down Wall Street and the economic inequality that it perpetuates; thus, endorsing a candidate like Clinton, who is quite friendly with Wall Street, seemed like an act of treachery.
Despite the fact that the Democratic Party has begun to adopt more policies of the far Left – like the $15 minimum wage – many polls show that less than half of Sanders' supporters say they will be voting for Clinton this fall. Taking to social media, Millennials called Sanders a sell-out, asking, “Where is this revolution I was promised?” Many made it clear that they do not want to settle for an increasingly progressive Democratic platform; what they desire is the utopian vison of the world that Sanders sold them.
Millennials are no different than previous generations who have been drawn to the broad promises of socialism. The rhetoric they so passionately believe in seems to overcome reality. It is not only selfish and apathetic tendencies that drive their attraction; their hearts are drawn to the principles of equality and justice. Most of these individuals honestly desire to see the world become a better place through the restoration of human well-being by economic means.
The task before us then, is to demonstrate the fact that these ideals are best served by capitalism, not socialism. The failure of classical liberalism to effectually advertise its values to Millennials has played a part in socialism’s success. It’s time that those of us who envision a thriving world based upon liberty and economic freedom take a page out of the socialists’ play book and sell our principles to Millennials by communicating and marketing our vision of a flourishing society.
As Joe Carter wrote in his Power Blog post "5 Reasons Why Millennials Should Support Capitalism," “My naïve hope is that if more Millennials understood that capitalism is mostly used as a derogatory term for free enterprise and economic liberty, they’d realize that they really do support it after all.” Much of the problem is that Millennials, and all others tempted by socialism, simply do not understand what the free market does and the all-around welfare it creates.
My appeal to economic conservatives is not original; it is taken from Hayek’s short article “The Intellectuals and Socialism,” written more than 60 years ago. He feared the power that socialist ideals had over a society and knew that embracing them would lead to “a dark phase of socialist totalitarianism.” Hayek states:
If we are to avoid such a development, we must be able to offer a new liberal program which appeals to the imagination. We must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage. What we lack is a liberal Utopia.
The word “utopia” tends to unnerve me, yet what Hayek speaks of is classical liberals clearly expressing the broad purpose of economic freedom, the ideals they believe in, and the thriving communities they envision, all based upon the dignity of the human person. These are exciting and promising principles, which can surely draw the hearts and minds of more Millennials. Hayek firmly believed that freedom of trade and opportunity had the power to “arouse the imaginations of large numbers,” but also acknowledged how hard this work would be. Still, we need to explore how we can make words like “the market,” “free trade,” “freedom of association,” and “rule of law” elicit an emotional response in young people.
Acton’s president, Rev. Robert Sirico, often expresses how freedom and capitalism should not be associated with profits alone but also with morals, religious principles, and the dignity of the human person. Rev. Sirico’s explanation that the purpose of capitalism is to bring more than just economic well-being has great potential to appeal to many Millennials, and I believe it is already doing so.
Don’t give up on us just yet.