We’ve all met them—people who don’t discuss politics; they debate politics. They’re not out to exchange ideas, or examine the basis for their own convictions, but to win a contest. A productive discussion with a debater is nearly impossible—even if you’ve got the stamina to engage him on his own foolish terms, the “discussion” will inevitably end in either victory for the debater, or…victory for the debater. In his own mind, a debater never loses; but also never learns. One cannot learn unless one admires the truth more than one’s own ego; and has the courage to accept the possibility of having to admit being wrong. Good political discussion, versus debate, usually ends with greater understanding all around, even if fundamental views aren’t changed.
The Review is a forum for true political discussion. As this issue makes clear, our staff spans a wide range of conservative viewpoints, from fiscal conservatives in Democrats’ clothing to gun-toting, God-fearing Red-staters. We’re all minority viewpoints on campus, however, and we’ve all developed the ability to hold a good political discussion. Partly this is borne of necessity—we’d never earn A’s from certain left-leaning TA’s if our powers of logic and analysis weren’t above average—but mostly, it comes from frequently engaging in friendly discussion with people with whom we disagree. We can’t help but let these discussions be frequent, by sheer power of the vast majority of liberals on campus; but we’ve all at some point made a very conscious decision to initially engage in the discussion.
Every time we open our mouths—or dust off our keyboards—to respond to some particular thread of liberal thinking, we accept the risk of finding a debater on the receiving end of our message. In their worst form, these are students who feel so desperate about “winning” the debate that they will throw away entire stacks of Review newspapers, or become bile-filled critics who send red-eyed, vaguely threatening e-mails. Encountering these people is never a pleasant experience, but we learn that the importance of standing up for our beliefs—and the ultimate satisfaction we derive from it—far outweighs the occasional discomfort of running into a “debater”.
I saw the great value of open-minded discussion two summers ago, in a rural field two hours outside of Washington, D.C. I was baking in the sun watching a Gettysburg re-enactment with a new friend, who at the beginning of the summer had been so vehemently anti-war that she viewed all wars as the result of trigger-happy politicians and foolish, testosterone-fueled young men. The concept of fighting out of compelling moral conviction seemed false to her. Two months, several long political discussions, and one Michael Shaara book later, she was the proud creator of a Joshua Chamberlain facebook fan club, and stood watching the reenactment with the same awe and reverence I had for the men who fought and died for the sake of freedom.
As for me, my viewpoint on war—and the Iraq War in particular—has been challenged countless times over the past four years. Even though my support of the war has not fundamentally changed, I have come away from each discussion with a slightly broader understanding of the war’s implications. The only reason this has happened is because I entered each discussion fully accepting that I might encounter some new fact which would prove me wrong. In this case, I have not changed my fundamental viewpoint, but my opinion is all the more nuanced—and hopefully closer to the truth—for all that I have learned from those with whom I disagree.
This all harks back to a single truth—if we never share our viewpoints, we stand no chance of changing anyone’s mind, and not much chance of expanding our own understanding. It sounds simple—but for many conservative students who feel isolated in a sea of liberalism and apathy, it can be surprisingly easy to remain silent.
At the Review, we realize the importance of being a true witness for our beliefs, because the day that we stop contributing to the discussion—by publishing viewpoints that are considered “too conservative” and sometimes dismissed by leftie academicians—is the day when the free exchange of ideas at Stanford has died.
So we continue to write and to publish under our motto, Fiat Lux!