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YAF – Redefining Conservative Communication

Time Capsule-Historic Images and Recollections (Reenactments and Historical Experiences)

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Young Americans for Freedom was a conservative political student group founded in Sharon, CT on September 11, 1960, which developed local chapters in cities across the country - including Austin. During a decade where many young people communicated their political ideas via direct action and protests (For example: the civil rights movement, anti-war protests, women’s rights marches… etc.), YAF provided a way for people to become acquainted with conservative ideas through writing and rhetoric. Among other methods, they published a quarterly magazine called The New Guard which gave conservative views of relevant issues. in 1969, many YAF chapters, including the Austin branch, experienced a schism, with many "purged" members contributing to the formation of the Libertarian Party. At that time, Young Americans for Freedom changed its name to Young American Foundation. This address, the Batts Auditorium, is a known location of one of the many debates and teach-ins sponsored by the UT-YAF in the 1960s.


Photo reproduced with permission from author. Faye Bartula, "Campus Foes Meet YAF Demonstration." The Daily Texan, April 16, 1970. page 9. Photo taken by Rene Perez. This is one of the very rare occurrences when YAF did protest. Area: "the drag".

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      YAF stood championed conservatism in a time and place closely associated with liberalism. According to The Daily Texan, the local Austin chapter purposed “to oppose the boisterous minority when it infringes upon the rights of the silent majority.” In a decade when many were protesting the Vietnam War in Austin, YAF was pro-defense and supported it. They also valued freedom of speech. According to the group, free speech is not to be confused with “the freedom to force one’s will upon another individual or group.” The synergy with libertarian thought is evident here with the first amendment. According to the Sharon statement, YAF’s founding document, YAF puts emphasis on personal freedom and a free market economy. Libertarians also valued individual freedom and an economy unconstrained by government mandates. However, the Sharon Statements saw an “interfering” government as dangerous to the “moral and physical strength of the nation.” At the same time, the Sharon Statement's goals included a morally strong nation, which clashed with some libertarian values. They will not support any legislation at the expense of the individual’s moral autonomy. The groups were ideologically similar, but YAF applied those ideologies to support conservative values, while liberitarians applied the principles empirically. In promoting broad conservative values, it can be said that YAF “accidentally” attracted libertarians in the early 1960s.

The YAF therefore offered a home to a broad array of conservatives, explaining its growth at the flagship university of Texas. The Austin YAF promoted their conserve values via magazines, fliers, hosting speakers, and sponsoring debates. They did this because they had to make clearly articulated points, as opposed to those involved in direct action, who assumed that everybody was familiar with the present issue of “the war” or “racial discrimination” etc. According to Kristen Elizabeth Hoerl’s doctoral thesis on retrospective perceptions of 1960s protests, as protests became more mainstream some students reported that it was “oppressive to individual spirit and authenticity.” In the age of authenticity, people gravitated toward YAF sometimes only because they were seeking something different and personally appealing.

The YAF therefore attempted to portray itself as an antithesis of the New Left culture popular at UT. In February of 1969, The Daily Texan reported that “UT-YAF sponsored a debate on ‘Revolution on Campus’ between former Communist Phil Luce and leftist Prof. Larry Caroline… The debate was attended by at least 800 students who filled the aisles and the halls of Batts auditorium to hear what both sides had to say.” At this point, YAF only had 65 members – so more than 700 students attened in order to discuss and debate the issue. This offered a stark contrast to the chants, parades, and rallies popular with the local New Left, where chants and snarky signs did not have as their primary purpose the goal of debating/discussing ideas. YAF presented conservatism in a way that was non-threatening, engaging, and ideally educational. Authentic, effective communication was critical to YAF’s success as a group.

 In December of 1969, YAF contributed to the origins of the libertarian movement. Actually, the libertarian party was formally founded in 1971 in Colorado, but libertarian groups had already existed for a while; before they petitioned to be a formal American political party, they were being influenced by YAF. Its origins were wrapped up in the schism that took place in ’69. This schism was happening nationwide, but it also happened in Austin’s chapter of YAF. Austin’s chapter of YAF had 65 members in December of 1969. At that time, three YAF members publicly burned their membership cards on campus. They created a new group, the Society for Individual Liberty, which was “an affiliate of the Texas Libertarian Alliance” according to an interview with the group’s spokesperson. They wished that YAF would take its core values of a non-invasive government and individual freedom even further than they currently did. In the context of the 60s, this is really best articulated by David Mast, one of the three YAF members who left in ’69: “YAF, in dealing with the moral issues such as the war on Vietnam, was attempting to enforce ‘authoritarian’ ideas on the country, ideas best left to individual decision.” Some people, like David, would be attracted to YAF, its ideological background, but then see that it did not practically apply its lassiez-faire ideologies to certain moral issues. At that point, these people would turn to libertarian groups; this is how YAF contributed to the growth of such a non-conservative group as the libertarians, which is the third biggest party in American politics today.
    
YAF is one of the groups that helped shape the way young conservatives expressed their opinions  - both in Austin and the wider national context. As it developed in the 1960s, it proved attractive to youth alienated from the New Left, but also demonstrated the tension between socially conservative values and and ideologies dedicated to a fully libertarian laissez-faire government.

Sources

Davis, Mary. “Group Dedicated to Preservation of US.” The Daily Texan, March 9th, 1969. Doyle, Ruth. “YAF Cards Go Up in Smoke As New Rightist Group Born.” The Daily Texan, December 11, 1969.

Fartula, Faye. “Campus Foes Meet YAF Demonstration.” The Austin American Statesman. April 16, 1970. Hoerl, K.E. (2005). 

The Death of Activism?: Popular Memories of 1960s Protest (Doctoral Dissertation). Retrieved from https://www.lib.utexas.edu/etd/d/2005/hoerlk26758/hoerlk26758.pdf.

Klatch, Rebecca E. (1999). A Generation Divided: The New Left, the New Right, and the 1960s University of California Press. p. 21. ISBN 0-520-21714-4.

“Our History.” liberitarianparty.org Accessed April 20, 2016. Retrieved from https://www.lp.org/introduction/our-history. Schneider, Gregory L. Cadres for Conservatism: Young Americans for Freedom and the Rise of the Contemporary Right (New York, NYU Press, 1999), pp 3.

“The University of Texas Chapter of Young Americans for Freedom Statement on Nuclear Testing.” AF University of Texas Social life & Customs U4500 (8), Austin History Center, 810 Guadalupe St, Austin, TX 7870.

Ward, Brian. The 1960s A Documentary Reader. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2010. 153-154.

Wayne Thorburn (2010). A Generation Awakes: Young Americans for Freedom and the Creation of the Conservative Movement. Jameson Books Inc., p. 250. Yaf.org.

"The New Guard Archives." Accessed April 19, 2016. Retrieved from http://www.yaf.org/The_New_Guard_Archives.aspx.
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This location was created on 2016-04-27 by Hutson Burg, University of Texas at Austin, History Department; Instructed by R Joseph Parrott.   It was last updated on 2017-06-28 by Ben M. .

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