The Editors’ Guide to Conservatism at Princeton

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Dear fellow conservatives: as your parents, cousins, teachers, and priests have warned you (or, if you’re hiding in the closet from all of these, as you’ve quietly and hesitatingly admitted to yourself), you are about to enter a trying, if exhilarating, four years. Every undergraduate’s views here are developing, changing, expanding, and being challenged in ways no undergraduate is prepared for. But unfortunately you, as a conservative, won’t be handed much guidance to get you through the process, because our fair alma mater is stocked overwhelmingly with liberals, from the most junior administrators in the print advertising department to the most senior faculty members enthroned in endowed chairs in Marx Hall. At times, their battle cries will simply confuse you—you will wonder how it is possible that anyone could be enraged that locks are present only on our female restroom doors (that is, if all the locks have not been stripped or all the bathrooms made gender neutral by the time we return to campus). At times, the chilling simplicity and attractiveness of their secularist and materialist philosophies will trouble you more deeply. Be consoled, however, by the fact that, though your RCA’s will not advertise them (and your practical ethics professors will resent them), Princeton actually does have many resources available for its conservative students, arguable more than any other elite university. This article aims to make you aware of them.

The first thing any good conservative will do is become a junior fellow at the James Madison Program, which hosts lectures and dinners on matters of constitutional law and political philosophy. The program is a haven for thought and discussion that would never be tolerated in the average Ivy League politics department and was once described by everyone’s favorite “flagship of the left,” The Nation, as “a vehicle for conservative interests, using funding from a shadowy, cultlike Catholic group and right-wing foundations to support gatherings of movement activists, fellowships for ideologically correct visiting professors and a cadre of conservative students.” If that doesn’t get your heart pounding a little faster, I don’t know what will. The Anscombe Society, which promotes sexual integrity on campus, is another organization worth joining. Anscombe will give you plenty of experience waging the battle for common sense against throngs of students for some reason infuriated that you do so. Princeton’s College Republicans chapter, which hosts speakers and conventions on campus, takes trips to conservative pow-wows in D.C., and has weekly dinner meetings, is an easy way to begin networking with conservatives here and around the nation and would be well worth your time. But if you really want to grow as a conservative, write for the Tory! You’ll be forced to learn your arguments well enough to write them down, to write well enough to be read by others.

The first duty of any young conservative, however, is to educate himself or herself, especially in the great works—whether philosophical, literary, musical, or artistic—of the Western tradition. Conservatism is built upon the belief that our ancestors tapped nature’s reserves of truth, good, and beauty deeply, and that the wisdom they gained from their exploration is more lasting and valuable than the fits and fashions that captivate society’s interest and imagination today. Use your time in college to steep yourself in their wisdom. It shouldn’t have to be said, but, as our progressive friends love reminding us, “It’s 2014,” so it does: if you get to the end of your time here and have taken the History of Racism in Brazil from 1914–1927 but not the Fall of the Roman Empire, if you’ve studied Pornographic Types in British Victorian Novels but never Dante’s Divine Comedy, you’ve been doing it wrong. Along these lines, here is a list of the best humanities professors Princeton has to offer: Robert George and Melissa Lane in politics, Jack Tannous, Anthony Grafton, and Bill Jordan in history, Joshua Katz in Classics, Russell Leo in English, Eric Gregory in Religion. Take these professors’ classes, visit them in office hours, and ask for their advice. Their wisdom, and the wisdom of the sources they teach, will give your intellect the substantial formation it needs.

And, as a final word of advice, never allow your conservatism to be anything but a source of amusement for you here. Your classmates may writhe at your perceived ignorance and insensitivity and your professors (though hopefully not many of them) may stand in genuine shock that any intelligent person could believe what you do. Laugh inwardly at their confusion, smile outwardly at it, and move on. A persevering intellectual sincerity on your part will convince them to engage with you more seriously and give you a chance to return to them a bit of common sense.

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One thought on “The Editors’ Guide to Conservatism at Princeton

  • September 18, 2014 at 9:06 am
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    As a liberal, I came into this article hoping to learn something about my conservative friends: how they approached discussions on campus, or perhaps something that could help me more deeply understand the nuances of their perspectives. I was left disappointed.

    If there is one notion I want all of the editors of the Tory to understand it is this: The defining characteristic of a conservative is not hatred towards liberals.

    Here at Princeton, we are supposed to be striving towards an intellectual paradise where ideas can be freely exchanged and evaluated on their own merit–a non-partisan ideal. Granted, a lot of the things we do and say on campus do not live up to this lofty ideal. However, you take us even further from it when you paint a picture, for the freshmen, of a Princeton where they need to constantly wage a war for their opinions, a Princeton where opposing sides cannot simply disagree but must hate each other for it. This antagonism is not conducive to a learning environment, nor is it conducive to the furthering of our nation. I’m sure you’ve noticed that Congress has been incredibly unproductive lately, and it’s at least partly because of this notion that other people are inferior human beings when they do not share your political stance.

    You are not clever when you deliberately misinterpret liberal arguments (gender neutral bathrooms are intended for the comfort and dignity of our transgender friends, not for some ridiculous idea of “urinal privilege” as the print version of this article stated). You are not thoughtful when you put down other Ivy League schools without any evidence of their inferiority. And you are alarmingly closed-minded in your attack on specific courses (which I thought you might have learned after last year’s “10 Worst Princeton Courses” debacle). Of course studying the fall of the Roman Empire is valuable. But today’s world is more diverse and more complicated than that of the fifteenth century, and in studying racism in Brazil in the ’20s, we may well learn something new about racism in the U.S. today–knowledge that could help us craft relevant policy to deal with the social and economic disadvantages of discrimination. It bears repeating that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. This is not limited to our own history, as Westerners or Europeans. The entire world is rife with history that could well help us understand and better our current situation.

    Speaking of last year’s “10 Worst Princeton Courses” debacle, I for one thought that this proved Princeton’s liberals and conservatives can converse, with a reasonable level of sophistication and lack of blatant ad-hominem attacks, in a way that leaves both parties feeling as though they have been heard. Those who do not agree with you have a right to say so; this is not you being attacked. This is Princeton functioning as Princeton is supposed to function: as a place where ideas are discussed, deeply considered, and refined.

    I would like to offer my own advice to Princeton’s new conservatives. Most importantly, this: resist the high horse. Reject arrogance. Consider ideas and people separately: do not discount an idea because it comes from a person with whom you do not see eye-to-eye, and do not discount a person because they have an idea with which you disagree. Pursue truth and knowledge, and stay open to unorthodox paths towards truth and knowledge. Be sincere. Defend your values. Help people reconsider their positions when you find them dangerous; similarly, listen to others when they express concerns about yours. Don’t let others define you. And finally, let life as a whole be a source of amusement for you. Take yourself lightly, laugh at your mistakes, and don’t get offended easily. Be well-rounded. Be thoughtful. Be kind.

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