Editors’ note: Last fall, the Buckley Program sponsored an essay contest open to student Fellows and others within the Yale community. The topic question, tied to our annual conference, was “What is a 21st Century Conservative?” Judged by three Yale professors, the following essay was written by Christian Vazquez, member of the Class of 2013 and a former Buckley Fellow. He won the third-place prize of $250.

“Liberty must be limited in order to be possessed.” —Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke’s words ring just as true in 2013 as they did in 1774. At its core, conservatism will remain the same—its intent and impetus being the same today as when Burke was writing over two centuries before. Conservatism is an optimistic belief in the capacity of mankind and the individual. Nevertheless, it is not foolhardy enough to entrust extreme liberty in the outright. It is true compassion, not a detached product of a system produced en masse to render standard results to all. It is the cautionary and wary eye of progress, not a limiting or counter-progressive instrument—rather, the strategic force by which society moves forward in the most logical and functional manner. Conservatism is not conformity; it is far from it. To be conservative one must counter the tide of popular notions. Populism and unlimited liberty have given us the worst tides of bloodshed in the form of the French and Bolshevik Revolutions and have produced ideologies that stifled liberty to a degree even greater than the very shackles they attempted to throw off.