The past two years have witnessed developments at Stanford that, perhaps, hold out the prospect of developing a serious curriculum in conservative thought for interested students here.
A few years ago, new arrival and senior political theorist Professor Joshua Cohen started offering an annual political philosophy course on Justice. John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin are on the syllabus, but so are John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Robert Nozick. The Ethics in Society program has offered for the past two years now a course on Libertarianism and Its Critics. And this year, a visiting professor in the history department taught a class on Modern American Conservatism, where students encountered Russell Kirk, William F. Buckley, Irving Kristol, and Barry Goldwater.
Combined with the education one can find conversing with intelligent conservative students, lunching with research fellows at the Hoover Institution, and articulating one’s thoughts coherently in writing for The Stanford Review, a student of the right at Stanford can now with confidence and justification say he can supplement a traditional liberal education with serious conservative thought.
This is a unique moment. Numerous strong institutions are now in place as focal points for the conservative studentry: the Review, the Stanford Conservative Society, and a book group sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, another organization that right-of-center students can turn to for high-caliber, intelligent conservative thought through off-campus seminars co-sponsored by Liberty Fund, essay contests, or their honors program. The non-partisan Stanford Political Union also brings ideas and arguments from the right and the left into intelligent and respectful conversation with one another on a regular basis, something that had long been lacking from the campus scene.
It would be a shame to let this contingent moment, in which so much of worth that was not here before now is, pass away. This time could be fleeting, but it should not be. The agenda for conservative students at Stanford is clear: coordinate across all of these institutions, deepen the relationships between student groups, the Hoover Institution and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, and enroll in classes in diverse departments that treat respectable conservative thought seriously. The aim should be to sustain and grow the strong foundation we now have in place for a worthy political education.