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Keith Erekson
Assistant Editor, Indiana Magazine of History

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IU Media Relations

Last modified: Monday, June 27, 2005

IU's student right and the rise of national conservatism

Conservatives at IU in the 1960s left their mark

JUNE 27, 2005

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Forty years ago, student demonstrators marched in the streets of campuses across the nation as the war in Vietnam worsened. But not all of those student marchers were opposing the war.

Photo by: Arbutus, 1968

Pro-Vietnam War demonstration by IU students, 1967-68, Bloomington campus.

Print-Quality Photo

On Indiana University's Bloomington campus in the 1960s, for example, anti-war protesters were regularly confronted by demonstrators from "the other side of campus" -- the conservative side. Like their better-known leftist counterparts, conservative students at IU organized, protested and marched, but they did so in support of the war.

In the June issue of Indiana Magazine of History, Jason S. Lantzer shows that life on the Bloomington campus in that turbulent time was more politically diverse than many may realize.

"While such a show of support (for the war) was hardly uncommon, either at IU or at other college campuses nationwide, subsequent studies of 1960s campus activism have tended to inherit from government investigators of the period a tendency to define student protest as the purview of the Left," writes Lantzer, a visiting lecturer in history at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Campus activism covered the full range of student expression evoked by the complexity of those times, he notes. "The campus Right at IU and elsewhere provided a number of students with an alternative and highly attractive worldview, one that both defended and critiqued the status quo."

Campus conservatives and leftists had something important in common: both sides rejected the consensus "me-too-ism" of the 1950s, when Democratic and Republican leaders were in agreement on certain essential aspects of foreign and domestic policies. For many young people seeking fundamental changes in those policies, radicalism of some kind seemed to be the only alternative.

"What both groups feared -- perhaps even more than each other -- was a continuation of what they saw as complacency in the face of real problems," Lantzer explains. "The extension of these political antagonisms to the nation's growing involvement in Vietnam -- and to the growing likelihood that American youth would be called to military service -- lay at the heart of a rising tide of campus political activism."

In addition to describing the feisty campus political life of the 1960s, he follows IU's conservative activists through their subsequent influential careers. Tom Huston, for example, authored the controversial federal surveillance plan that bore his name during the Nixon administration. R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. took his Alternative from Bloomington to Washington, D.C., where the magazine, retitled The American Spectator, became an important forum for critics of the Clinton administration.

"Looking back on their time in Bloomington, these one-time student activists argue that as New Deal-era liberalism collapsed, as the old consensus establishment gave way and the New Left fell apart, they stepped in to fill the breach," Lantzer writes. "With other leaders of the New Right, they learned their lessons during the Goldwater campaign, captured the Republican Party, implemented their ideas under Nixon and Reagan, and have now helped to define American politics for 40 years. In government, in political discourse and in academia, the conservatives who came of age at IU in the 1960s have left their mark on the state and nation."

Indiana Magazine of History is published quarterly by the History Department at Indiana University Bloomington, in cooperation with the Indiana Historical Society, which offers the journal as a benefit of membership. For information on the articles in the June issue, contact the IMH editorial office at 812-855-4139. The issue's table of contents can be found on the magazine's Web site at