Conservatives Across the Pond

Editor’s Note: We sat down with Louis Hoffman, deputy editor of The Burkean Journal, an up-and-coming conservative student publication out of Trinity College in Ireland. Given the many similarities between The Journal and The Review, we found it interesting to explore the ideas of a similar group of students in a generally dissimilar society. William J. Brandon and Alexander Rauda contributed to the transcription of this interview.


The Dartmouth Review (TDR): Could you tell a little more about how the journal was founded? What motivated you? Why did you start it?

Louis Hoffman (LH): About a year ago, this other guy (he since dropped out) and I bonded because we were visibly annoyed with the liberal domination of our campus. That’s a strong word, but Trinity is probably the most liberal of the colleges in Ireland; it’s very progressive, it tries to emulate a lot of American liberalism. We came together, it started off as an idea, and over a year we started to get together more and more often. We wanted to try and start a bit of a debate on campus. It’s been very grassroots; we were disappointed in the way our country was going. You’ve got to stand up for what you believe in. In Trinity especially, there is a lot of people who despise me as a conservative. They tell you the standard: “You’re a Nazi, you’re a homophobe, you’re this and that.” Anyway, the whole principle is to start a paper, a publication, that will enable us to have a platform and say “This is what I stand for.”

TDR: How has the journal been received by the university community?

LH: That’s an interesting one, because the reception is always going to be mixed, especially in a campus like this. It goes from a lot of Trotskyites, real socialists vehemently disagreeing with it, to a lot of people who genuinely see why we are doing this. Overall, it is surprising positive, even when other papers have tried to point us out as notorious and such. The majority of people think “I understand what you are doing; we need a little debate on campus.” Conservatives are obviously delighted, because they’re like “Finally, you can stand up for what you say, it’s not that weird.” The idea is more important than anything for us: the idea of “Here’s a platform: it’s okay to think like this, if you don’t that fine, come here and set up your own paper.” That’s what has happened; a new far-left progressive organization called the Red Pen has been set up. But we are sort of in favor of promoting freedom of speech and dialogue. Overall, I’d say it’s incredibly positive, especially when it got set up and got going. Initially, we got abuse; for example, in nightclubs, people saying “you’re this” or a “disgusting a**hole pro-life prick.” There’s an abortion referendum going on, but I’m not pro-life, I’m in the middle. Or I get told I’m a homophobic, or this and that. But that’s not what I care about, because they were deciding before they’ve even read anything. That’s why I tell people “Read what we are writing, and then you’ll see it’s not that different.” The more people have been reading us, and they’re seeing the ideas people propagate, they see we are not evil at all. One publication even pointed out we were “an utterly useless contribution to the world,” and there was some negative backlash against them. We are happy with it.

TDR: What is your response to that article calling you “utterly useless?”

LH: I commented on it and got 90 likes, saying what the journal was about. A lot of these people use hyperbole. We have conversation in Trinity, which is great, including left-wing, right-wing, center, communists, that sort of thing, and everyone just has a discussion based on what they stand for. It was almost like a genuine free speech safe space for debate, where you can say what you think and back it up. And [the author of that article] was there and didn’t say it to my face, which is quite a cowardly thing, because I know for a fact the Trinity News editors described the Burkean Journal as “the rise of fascism.” The Trinity News editors are just so scared that people may agree with us, they are desperately trying to name us as fascists and far-right. It’s not; we’re not doing anything wrong. We just see it as a positive; they don’t realize it’s free press. The more they put it out there and the more they react angrily against us the more people say “F**k these guys.” The more they react against us, the more people are pushed toward us and see we are speaking sense. I think it’s interesting that the more people read, the more they realize we aren’t pushing one idea or one ideology; we’re just providing a platform for freedom of speech. It’s a good thing and I think a lot of people agree with that.

TDR: Checking back at the article, I think they deleted your comment.

LH: That’s hilarious. It’s sad, because we don’t mind when they write stuff about us because that’s their platform. Contradiction is inherently not going to be part of their paper. They’re just not happy because now there’s a visible outlet for people who disagree. They’re freaking out because they’ve had a monopoly on it for so long. They turn away articles that they don’t agree with and shut down anything they don’t agree with, but suddenly there’s something that they can’t deal with. We didn’t go for a grant because we wanted to remain independent; they can’t control us, there’s nothing they can do. At the end of the day, we’re a couple of students that are passionate about politics.

TDR: Tell me a bit about conservatism in Europe. It’s generally not something that Americans would think exists.

LH: European conservatism is very different to American conservatism. Even the Democrats would probably be a center right party in Ireland. Americans are inherently so much more conservative than Ireland. Conservatism has a different meaning in Ireland than America. But we are so linked in to the American system, because of American cultural hegemony over the world; we are so linked in to your political system and your political battles. It’s so funny; when Trump won, there were people at Trinity crying, but he’s not even their president! In America it would be interesting to see if I’d be classified as a conservative, because in Ireland I am. The state is more involved in the daily running of citizens, and that’s just a byproduct of things like the French Revolution, the Enlightenment, 1848, all this steady progression. It’s always funny to Americans seeing the juxtaposition in Ireland. People are fiscally conservative – there’s inherent Catholicism – but socially are becoming increasing more liberal. Same-sex marriage passed easily here; there wasn’t a big debate, there wasn’t anyone really against it. Ireland is a weird country and Europe is very weird because it’s not conservative in the same way as America. Even the problems we face are very different from those in America. Nationalism is inherently different than in America; in America it’s based on ideals and values, whereas in Europe it’s based very much on ethnicity.

TDR: How would you describe your own personal brand of conservatism? What do you believe in and how did you come to believe it?

LH: I never really thought I was conservative until I came to college. I sort of consider myself a European neoconservative, as it’s a new branch, so quiet center. I believe in the commission of a capitalist system, the economy before law. I find what makes people call me a conservative is that I just disagree with liberal domination of our popular culture. You’re told to accept things, you’re told you can’t think like this, you can’t do that. That’s always what bothered me; that’s what I stand up for. Freedom of speech is such a big issue for me. It’s easy to stand up with people you agree with; it’s harder against those who disagree with you. In many ways, it’s hard to quantify what I stand for entirely. I was pro-Trump in the build-up to the election, and that’s what made people think “Oh he’s so conservative, he’s so far-right,” because I genuinely stood for what he stands for. Post-election, I don’t agree with some of what he’s done, but in the build-up, the manifestation of what people want – populism, change, the break from corruption – that’s why I liked him. For me, since Trump came into power, he’s completely changed politics; the Democrats and the Republicans have to listen to people now. It’s so funny when people ask what you believe in, because in America it’s so easy, because you have a two-party system. In Ireland there’s such a plethora of different ideas. Your left wing is nothing compared to ours, we have genuine Trotskyites on campus, we’ve got a socialist party. It’s a visible presence in Ireland, where it’s just not the same as in America. You’ve got Antifa, but they don’t really have any parliamentary power, thank God.

TDR: What are your thoughts on Trump?

LH: Obviously, that’s what gets the most attention because he’s such a divisive figure. Post-election, I don’t agree with so much of what he’s done, but what he represented at that time for me was change. People wanting to take positive change, the idea of him during the election, and my hatred of Hillary Clinton drove me to him. Hillary Clinton’s no fly zone over Syria, the Clinton Foundation, all of this I just found so ridiculous. It annoyed me when people claimed “Hillary Clinton didn’t win because she’s a woman,” or that “Trump got in because people are racist.” That’s not the case. People are starting to realize now that it’s this sort of language that actually pushes people to Trump and away from traditional parties. You can’t freely express yourself and say “This is what I stand for” without being shouted down. You’re never going to be able to complete yourself politically and you just end up getting more and more radical. When you get told “You’re wrong,” you get more stubborn and more determined. It’s a dangerous trance; I liked him at the time, I don’t like him so much now. It was the idea he stood for more than the policies he’s implemented since then.

TDR: How is conservatism viewed in Irish society in general? Not just in campus, but on the scale of the whole county. Are their stigmas against being a conservative in Ireland?

LH: It’s not conservatism in the same way as in America. The ideals of the Catholic Church still dominate our society, and people are trying to overthrow that. When Ireland sought its independence there was a lot of left-wing socialists involved, like James Connelly, unlike the American Revolution; George Washington was a landowner in Virginia, and so on. These were ordinary people struggling for themselves and from that there’s a sort of strong tradition of hatred of conservatism, but it has a more accepted place in our society. With same-sex marriage, there was a small minority that opposed it, but most people accepted that it was just normal and no one would have batted an eyelid. The abortion campaign which is dominating politics right now is seen as conservative issue, but I don’t think it is. But not everyone who is generally conservative is pro-life, and vice versa. Especially in the millennial generation, conservatism is not a particularly popular thing, but I still think that Ireland deep down has this sort of inherent conservative anger that just won’t go away.

TDR:  What do you see as the future of the Journal and of conservatism in general at Trinity and in Ireland going forward?

LH: I see the future of the Journal as incredibly positive. It’s gonna grow, we’re getting more and more people involved either as writers or contributors or people involved on the editorial team. We have people from other colleges coming to us because there’s just no one with a platform like us in Ireland. Even in the UK there’s not a platform for it and it’s getting increasingly more popular. We’ve had a professor from Yale and a professor from Emory write, more and more people are realizing that we are serious. On our Facebook page, we’ve only been up like a month or two now, we’re at like 800 likes and are trying to get to 1000 by the end of the month; we just keep growing. Because it’s small-scale, and we’re all college students, we don’t have specific office hours, so it’s all coming out of our free time. But the more people want to get involved the more promising it is. It’s so positive. The future is in online publications; no one really reads papers anymore. So we’re just gonna keep doing what we do, and it’s great to see the reaction. I think the European brand of conservatism is just going to become steadily more entrenched within Trinity. We’re happy we’re making progress. It makes it easier for people to speak their minds and disagree, and it makes it easier for people on the left to see more conservative ideas. This isn’t putting forward my ideas; it’s about putting forward a platform for dissent, for discussion, for debate, and to make our country better, it’s a small step.  We’re not to change the world, but if we can change the way twenty people think, then it’s been a success. If you can change the way people who will someday run our country think, than you’ve made positive change. We’re trying to get younger people on board to make sure this has longevity.  I think our European brand of conservatism is only going to grow stronger, as this has been a rallying point for people who disagree. I think that has been more important than the publication: this idea that you can disagree, and still be successful.