With nearly six million television viewers checking in to watch the recent GOP debate in Florida, one cannot help but wonder if this country is suddenly more politically involved, or if these debates have become a source of entertainment. Unfortunately, with such a focus on these sound-clip debates, the substantive dialogue and ideas from the candidates can become lost, much as they did during the Obama campaign in 2008.
Despite a student body that does not seem to identify the national conservative movement as an intellectual movement, the Stanford conservative community has represented the intellectual side of the movement. In the past year two new conservative-affiliated groups have been added to the campus scene, which have increased the total number of involved conservatives on campus. As with any intellectual community, we need an accurate representation of all areas of political thought, and Stanford is delivering.
Stanford already featured Stanford Conservative Society and Stanford Students for Life, as well as the Stanford Objectivists club. But among the new groups is the Stanford Anscombe Society, which kicked off last spring. Named after British philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe, the group advocates the idea of traditional marriage, but attempts to do so without making any religious claims. It is independent of any conservative group on campus, and does not wish to attack any other group.
Last spring also saw the opening of a Stanford chapter of the Alexander Hamilton Society. This society is non-partisan by creed, and open to all members of the Stanford community. Founded at Princeton University, AHS serves to facilitate constructive debate on America’s foreign policy and national security, and cites the success of groups such as the Federalist Society as inspiration. According to their Statement of Principles, AHS hopes to reaffirm that “America’s greatness is the result of its commitment to individual liberty, limited government, economic freedom, the rule of law, human dignity, and democracy.”
Why, though, at a liberal campus, are Stanford’s conservative and libertarian groups increasing in number? Most obvious is the argument that it stems from a reflection of national sentiments, that is, as the country disapproves of Obama and starts exploring more conservative policies, campus conservative movements will expand. While this may be the case to some extent, it is a cause that does not exactly fit the Stanford student type.
While many of the group members have always considered themselves conservative, some members may be joining the campus conservative movement because of the nature of the Left at Stanford. The Left suffers from two problems.
First, it is largely represented, and perhaps controlled, by groups or members of the far Left. Those with more moderate views find themselves facing organizations and leaders who demand stances on their positions. For instance, it would have been difficult for moderate students to identify with the Left on campus during the ROTC debates last Spring, because the pressure from certain elements of the movement to abstain from the vote overflowed tremendously into the even the apolitical community.
The conservative movement on campus, composed of groups that cater to social conservatives, libertarians, and foreign policy conservatives, don’t suffer from a similar hegemony. They largely operate as organizations engaged in dialogue about their issues and willing to cross into different spheres of center-right thought. By virtue of this broader focus, they attract proportionately more students from those somewhat inclined to be involved than many of the liberal groups on campus attract with their more narrow ideological stance.
A second problem on the left is that much of the campus is apolitical, though still assumed to be more liberal than anything else. Aside from just making it difficult to recruit among the student body, this problem gives students a way to distinguish themselves from the apolitical public. Generally any student who claims to be libertarian or conservative should have some sense of a political philosophy.
It is this diversity among the movement that causes the increase in issue-specific groups. These groups can exist, though, among each other and with unity in the movement, as most of the members congregate within the Stanford Conservative Society. The Review Editorial Board urges moderate students and students of any position right-of-center to consider calling themselves part of the conservative movement at Stanford. It also urges students to explore all facets of conservative thought offered by conservative groups.
But it is also imperative that the conservative community remain unified at Stanford. Groups must work together and not diffuse focus on topics so much so that the community becomes fractured. So far, the conservative community has struck a strong and successful balance.