Beware, America’s Youth Is Embracing Authoritarianism

Beware, America’s Youth Is Embracing Authoritarianism
AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

(The opinions expressed in guest op-eds are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of

One of the more peculiar developments over the past few decades is the rather sudden transformation of America’s youth from independent-minded, anti-establishment, culture warriors into like-minded, pro-establishment, collectivist cowards.

Although the seeds of this conversion were planted years ago, they are now in full bloom.

Consider, for example, how America’s youth have reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic. For more than two years, thousands of colleges and high schools have remained closed for in-person learning for extended periods of time, literally ruining the lives of untold young Americans.

Ordinarily, at least in years past, this spectacle would have produced a backlash of epic proportions. See, for instance, college students’ Vietnam draft protests in the 1960s.

However, here we are in 2022, with millions of young Americans being deprived of a proper education, with nary a peep of protest.

In fact, instead of demonstrating against the tyrannical edicts that have turned their lives upside-down, it appears as if a significant number of young Americans actually agree with creeping authoritarianism.

The COVID-19 pandemic, or more rather, the authoritarian reaction to it, seems to sit all too well with today’s youth, which is something that should concern the rest of us.

The results of a new poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports and The Heartland Institute illustrate the degree to which young Americans are acceptive of authoritarianism.

For instance, 34 percent of likely voters strongly or somewhat favor “a proposal for federal or state governments to fine Americans who choose not to get a COVID-19 vaccine.”

Given that COVID-19 is much more lethal to the elderly, one would assume that older Americans favor this proposal more than young Americans. That assumption would be incorrect; 45 percent of Americans aged 18 to 39 support this measure compared to only 27 percent aged 40 to 64, and 30 percent aged 65 and over.

The same pattern emerged when likely voters were asked if federal or state governments should require citizens remain confined to their homes at all times, except for emergencies, if they refuse to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Almost half of those who support this position were under the age of 39.

Perhaps most emblematic of the authoritarian mindset of today’s youth is their zealous acceptance of tracking the unvaccinated via a smartphone app or wearable device to ensure they are quarantined or socially distancing from others. Among the 28 percent of likely voters who somewhat or very favor this Orwellian tactic, 43 percent were aged 18 to 39. On the other hand, only 17 percent of those age 65 and over support this while 23 percent of those aged 40 to 64 are on-board.

Suffice to say, despite the fact that COVID-19 poses little to no threat to America’s youth, this cohort is by far the most willing to accept authoritarian measures to supposedly combat the virus.

Yet, as mentioned above, this should not be all that surprising. In recent years, America’s education system has rejected freedom of speech while embracing “safe spaces,” “speech codes,” and “trigger warnings.”

This has created a generation that errs on the side of groupthink and is reluctant to engage in critical thinking, let alone the search for truth.

Moreover, today’s youth have grown up in a mass surveillance, social media-centric state, in which privacy and individualism are no longer virtues, but shunned by society.

It is for these reasons, and many more, that I am genuinely concerned about the future of liberty in the United States. To their credit, the authoritarian left has worked strategically in infiltrating academia, Hollywood, and many societal institutions, indoctrinating an entire generation to be more receptive to authoritarianism.

However, this does not mean individual liberty will go the way of the dinosaurs. If there is absolutely one thing we have learned over the past two years, it is that the current education system must be reformed.

From increased interest in school choice to the proliferation of trade schools, the tide could be finally turning.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.” If this is the case, we have much work to do.

Chris Talgo ([email protected]) is senior editor at The Heartland Institute.

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