by David Byler ’14
The Tory prides itself on being a serious journal of conservative and moderate thought. Nevertheless, we are not the only student organization supporting conservative ideas at Princeton. In this article we profile other conservative campus organizations — some of which are widely known, while others fly under the radar.
The most conspicuous conservative group on campus is the College Republicans. As their name suggests, the CRs are affiliated with the Republican National Committee, and their mission is threefold. According to their mission statement, they “work to cultivate Republican ideas on campus, provide opportunities for members to get involved in politics, and assist Republican candidates at all levels of government.” Just this year, they engaged in phone-banking, distributed literature, and co-sponsored a campus event for local Republican Congressional Candidate, Scott Siprelle. Through such public activity, the CRs attempt to present conservatism as the appropriate solution for modern political problems. Additionally, they hold weekly discussion groups on issues within the conservative community, such as where Republicans should fit ideologically on the spectrum on conservatism. “We are naturally a coalition organization” said College Republicans president Tiernan Kane ’11, indicating that there are many people in the CRs who hold different views on issues. While the CRs are active on campus, the group maintains a sense of camaraderie. Kane describes the group dynamic as composed of “a tight-knit officer core and a medium size active membership. Almost everyone who comes to meetings knows each other by name.” College Republicans is a broadly focused group with a close feel, but they aren’t the only group on campus to foster such an atmosphere.
Justin Alderis ’11, President of the College Libertarians, also describes the dynamics of his organization as a “tight-knit cluster of officers and a less tight-knit group of members.” The similarities to the CRs, however, stop there. Unlike the CRs, the CLs are a fairly new organization, officially started by Alderis in 2008. They strive to represent libertarianism on campus by mobilizing libertarians to argue cogently for their philosophy and by providing a community for libertarian students. While the club is still new, it is active. The CLs host study breaks, screen documentaries such as Penn and Teller’s “Bullshit!”, and attend conferences on libertarianism hosted by libertarian groups like the Students for Liberty and the Ivy League Alliance for Liberty. When speaking about the members, Alderis commented that “[m]ost of the people who do this are really enthusiastic.” His long-term vision for the club, as he states, is to publish a libertarian magazine and to make sure that their philosophy is distinct from the College Republicans and other conservative groups on campus.
While the CRs and College Libertarians deal with multiple issues, the Anscombe Society and Princeton Pro Life consider only specific political and social agendas. PPL focuses on respecting the dignity of life. In the words of PPL president Steve Lindsay ’12, “We promote a culture of life in opposition to the practices of abortion, embryo-destructive research, and physician-assisted suicide. We seek to forward that mission through discussions within the pro-life community and with the pro-choice community, hold large events, such as our annual Respect Life Week and our trip to the March for Life, host guest lectures by both professors and public figures, and hold social gatherings among our members to better facilitate group cohesion.” Unlike PPL, the Anscombe Society’s mission explains that they are “dedicated to affirming the importance of the family, marriage, and a proper understanding for the role of sex and sexuality.” This mission includes defending monogamous heterosexual marriage and abstinence until marriage. While Anscombe pursues these goals in various ways, one of their most controversial activities was campaigning last year for a Center for Abstinence and Chastity on campus. While the University has not sanctioned such a center yet, the campaign drew much attention to Anscombe’s cause.
While the organizations detailed thus far have a specific political mission and ideology, other groups on campus seek to juxtapose conservative and liberal views, allowing for greater debate and comparison between them. The Clio side of Whig-Clio is one such place. Every few weeks, Whig-Clio hosts a public parliamentary debate on a predetermined resolution. Topics of these resolutions are diverse, ranging from campus issues such as arming Public Safety to political issues like whether or not Republican victories in 2010 are good for the country. In this setting, conservatives on the Clio side and liberals on the Whig side are allowed to directly discuss their views, debating and critiquing one another in a public forum. While two debaters from each side prepare opening and closing arguments ahead of time, anyone in the audience is allowed to participate, making it an ideal environment for expressing individual ideals while being exposed to the ideas of others.
The James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions also serves to foster dialogue amongst conservatives and non-conservatives alike. The James Madison Program invites students of all academic concentrations and political ideologies to apply to their undergraduate fellow program. A branch of the Politics Department, James Madison promotes political discussion and scholarship without favoring any political ideology. The Program gives undergraduate fellows the opportunity to explore political ideas via discussions with professors, lectures by visiting speakers, and engagement with other politically acute students. In addition to hosting events related to political and Constitutional issues, the Program offers several university courses. This semester, they offered POL 332: American Statesmanship, a class dedicated to gaining a better understanding of 19th Century American Politics by examining Abraham Lincoln’s life and principles. The Madison Program also awards the Stephen Whelan ’68 Senior Thesis Prize to a student with an outstanding senior thesis in the area of constitutional law and political thought. Moreover, the John Witherspoon Medal for Distinguished Statesmanship, also given by the Program, is a nonpartisan distinction awarded to a statesman who has done outstanding job in public service in one of the three branches of government.
While there are some organizations that were not mentioned in this article, those that have been mentioned showcase the breadth and depth of opportunities afforded to conservative students at Princeton.