American Conservatism in SoCo

Sophomore college is a collection of application-only three-week-long summer seminars open to incoming undergraduate sophomores every summer before fall quarter begins. “SoCo,” as it is affectionally referred to by students, has a long history of taking unconventional approaches to the intensive study of different subjects — from river rafting on the Colorado River to learn about water quality, to traveling to Tanzania to study African anthropological issues. This year, Sophomore College will continue this tradition, allowing students to penetrate the oft-elusive barrier of the Hoover Institution for an intensive study of American conservatism.

Political Science 24 SC: American Conservatism and its Critics in the 21st Century is one of Sophomore College’s new courses for the 2011 summer. According to the course description, “students will study conservative political and economic thought from the 20th century onward and the influence of these ideas about freedom and capitalism on contemporary U.S. politics and public policy.”

Like other Sophomore College courses, the seminar will accept 15 students. It will take place on-campus, and will be taught by three Hoover Institution fellows and Stanford professors of Political Science Tammy Frisby, David Brady, and Morris Fiorina. In addition to traditional lecture and discussion components, the seminar will feature group policy projects and “informal dinners with guest speakers.”

While many of the guest speakers will be from the Hoover Institution, the seminar will also feature guest speakers from the opposite end of the political spectrum, as well as speakers from Silicon Valley. “We want to keep the course from being a purely academic conversation,” explained Frisby. This is the idea behind bringing entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley in to speak. According to Dr. Frisby, the function of these speakers is to present a variety of political viewpoints, and to challenge student’s ideas about the function of government and the role of social justice and economic development within conservative ideology.

It’s Not Conservative Bootcamp.”

In an interview with The Review, she explained, “The big idea behind the course is to look at conservative ideology and its critics — what does conservative thought mean today and in the next several decades?”

She clarified, “When we talk about [the] critics [of conservatism], we’ll look at critics outside conservatism, as well as the internal debates within conservatism.”

Frisby and her co-instructors emphasize that the seminar is intended to be an intensive intellectual study of conservatism within the context of American politics, rather than a one-dimensional introduction to conservative ideology.

“It’s not conservative bootcamp,” explained Frisby. “It’s a course about one of the major fields of political thought, and how to critically evaluate it — what are the arguments, what are the merits of these arguments, and what does that mean for politics on the ground.”

The course was the brainchild of Dr. Brady. Frisby and Brady have instructed two other Sophomore College courses together in the past.

The idea for the course stemmed from a perceived dearth of rigorous analysis of conservatism in academia. “We wanted to respond to the lack of serious consideration of conservative thought in Stanford’s course offerings. [Currently,] there is not a careful, reasoned, scholarly look at conservatism.”

Although Frisby explained that she and her co-instructors have “seen a longstanding need” for a course like this, it was really the political events in 2010, and current political movements like that Tea Party that really encouraged them to organize the course.

When questioned about how the university responded to the idea of a Hoover-taught conservative course, Frisby explained that “the university was comfortable with [the course] from the get-go.” The university was aware that “[the course] is not going to be psychological indoctrination.”

In addition to analyzing policy issues and their conventional conservative approaches, the course will look at conservative political theory. Particularly, a main focus of the course will be analyzing what conservatism looks like among intellectuals, as compared to what it looks like among the general public.

Among the required summer readings, students will read books by Milton Friedman on conservative economic policy, Disconnect by the course’s own instructor Morris Fiorina, and the novel *Blindness, *by Jose Saramago.

While Frisby anticipates that conservative students will represent a large part of those interested in the course, when reviewing applications she and her co-instructors will be looking for a balance of curious and politically-involved students from all across the political spectrum.

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