As we arrive on and return to campus, and as we usher in another year at Stanford, it seems appropriate to offer a restatement of what the Stanford Review is, and what it is not. There is some risk of the Review acquiring an identity that is not its own, and it seems the best way to avoid that outcome is to consider the Review’s purpose.
Reflecting on its position on campus now, the Review seems to be in something of an ambivalent situation. It remains the institution it has traditionally been for over twenty years: the alternative campus newspaper, its conservatism varying in degree and kind from volume to volume. It continues to attract a diverse group of writers and editors, none of whom agree completely with one another, and who often disagree over quite fundamental matters. And it still seeks to publish unpopular ideas, controversial or not, which might not find a place in print elsewhere.
At the same time, we seem to be becoming—not by our own choosing—almost something of a political party on campus. At least, that’s how the Daily seemed to write the story of the ASSU Senate last year.
Let us be clear: the Review is not a political party. We are a newspaper. Always have been, always will be. It’s just that some people we supported in last year’s ASSU election happened to win. We preferred people that the majority of the Stanford community also liked. And really, that’s about it. Describing the situation as “SOCC-endorsed” senators vs. “Stanford Review-endorsed” senators only serves to obscure the complexity and reality of the situation. The senators we supported disagree with one another, just as people within the Review disagree with one another. We are anything but a monolith. And we are most certainly not a political party. We have no desire to be.
What are we, then? At our best, we are a forum for ideas. We exemplify the diverse disagreement at the core of American conservatism, a never-ending conversation that keeps the movement dynamic and reminds it of its purpose. Conservatism at Stanford is perpetually in a position of explaining its own diversity to a diverse student body that often doesn’t think of conservatives as a crowd with much variety in it. Despite the huge literature of disagreement between traditionalists, neoconservatives, and libertarians—and everything in between—that argues to the contrary, those unfamiliar with conservatism often see it as a self-contradictory, singular mass, instead of a loose federation of different ideas. In the worst case of misunderstanding, many are apt to agree with John Stuart Mill’s description of conservatives: “The stupid party.”
As Russell Kirk, Friedrich Hayek, Leo Strauss, and many others have shown, though, conservatism is anything but stupid, and it is never as monolithic as a party. Kirk was clearly a traditionalist. Hayek, while considered a conservative in America, actively fought against the label, insisting he was a classical liberal. Leo Strauss, while he has been mistakenly painted as the “godfather” of neoconservatism today, was in fact anything but, as becomes apparent when reading his work. Strauss in fact had little interest in contemporary politics.
Given their variety, what unites these thinkers are two composite ideas one picks up implicitly from reading their works: a respect for the complexity of reality, and a wariness about oversimplification.
The Review is constituted by writers who present a complex picture of conservatism. But it is a realistic picture. While we may or may not agree completely with a Kirk, a Hayek, or a Strauss – we may not have even read much of their work – we embody their two unifying ideas. We do not claim to have the truth, but we hope that we can move toward a more complete understanding of reality’s complexity. John Stuart Mill had unkind words for conservatives, but he recognized in his great work On Liberty the value of having multiple ideas existing and competing for conviction in the public sphere. It is this debate, the display and demonstration of the many sides of truth, for which the Review exists.
And while we try to show the intellectual side of conservatism, it’s also important that we not take ourselves too seriously. Everyone has opinions. We’re going to reason about things in different ways, and no one can claim infallibility. Madison and Hamilton admitted as much in Federalist Nos. 1 and 37. So we’ll throw some ideas out there, try to reason through them well, and see what happens. Rants are for the Internet. Arguments are for print.
The Review has been and remains a forum for different ideas and arguments. We remind ourselves with our motto, Fiat Lux, to seek enlightenment, to move closer to the truth about what is, and hopefully shed some light on complexity. Our own example can show the way. If, in the course of this volume, we acquire a better understanding of one another, we will have served our purpose.
Yours in searching,
Editor in Chief