The philosopher G.K. Chesterton once quipped, “freedom of speech means practically, in our modern civilization, that we must only talk about unimportant things.” At the moment, freedom of speech is more restricted than possibly any other time in time in the history of Stanford — and more broadly modern America. Depressing as that may be, this predicament often allows for contrarians to have an even greater effect.
In the Review’s founding decade, the 1980s, politically incorrect hits like Caddyshack, Airplane, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High played in theaters. George Carlin and Rodney Dangerfield, still in their irreverent prime, dared to tour college campuses. Donahue and Oprah broadcasted taboo social, cultural, and political topics onto American screens. The Latchkey Kids — a generation of children with little parental supervision — found their way into the world.
America has changed significantly since then. Now, like it or not, we’re in a culture war. At Stanford, the current coming-of-age generation is not the freewheeling Latchkey Kids but one of sheltered students, protected from anything that is possibly offensive by a nanny state of a university. The 1980s were a time when unpopular opinions were still tolerated by the public, without mass-scale condemnation or cancellation. Stanford was still the spot for intelligent bohemians who tolerated disagreement.
Now, we’re at a period in Stanford’s history when many, understandably, have a bleak view of this university and their place in it. Students not only face a battle when espousing dissenting opinions, but they also deal with a campus bereft of genuine social connection and the fading geographic relevance of Silicon Valley. While we can only speculate about what exactly the next decade will look like, we can be certain of how the Review and contrarianism fit into it.
Minority opinions are not only crucial, but they can also be supremely impactful in the next decade. Perhaps this is because we find ourselves in a time where that which is most pertinent can no longer wait. Contrarianism is most needed now. Throughout the past 35 years, the Review is the one place on Stanford’s campus where free speech has been consistently celebrated. This publication is a home for contrarians, intellectual outlaws, and those with controversial opinions. Though the inquisitive and irreverent ethos of Stanford is dying, it’s always alive in individuals and in the Review.
Contrarianism is not disagreement purely for the sake of opposition, but unfiltered thought for the purpose of intellectual engagement. Tolerance for unorthodox beliefs is at a modern low. This is perhaps most prominent on college campuses. A majority of college students feel uncomfortable expressing their opinions and some even think violence is an acceptable reaction to speech with which they disagree. Instead of more conscious learners, modern higher education is building mobs. These hordes continually degrade the fabric of university education and culture.
This struggle exemplifies Stanford’s gradual stagnation from an academic standpoint. We see it in the injection of leftist ideology into every facet of university life. Humanities courses often cover obscure topics and focus on identity politics. Engineering and science courses — ones that most think should be the most concrete and logical — are often not.
If we cannot genuinely discuss big ideas and debate in the highest echelons of American education, then where does intellectual honesty exist? How does one instill it in at least some of the crop of future leaders that Stanford indelibly spawns? The answer lies in small groups of students and faculty who remain willing to question the leftist orthodoxy and argue for heterodox opinions.
When institutions fail, it’s up to individuals to save our society’s fundamental values. Ernst Jünger, a German reactionary thinker, wrote “when all institutions have become equivocal or even disreputable, and when open prayers are heard even in churches not for the persecuted but for the persecutors, at this point moral responsibility passes into the hands of individuals, or, more accurately, into the hands of any still unbroken individuals.” This is the spirit of contrarianism.
The courage required makes people more confident and better writers. We can rise out of the ashes of a broken university. This is not a time to be complacent: we must be proactive. For the remainder of Volume LXVI, we’ll continue to expose woke antics in every corner of campus, offer thoughtful and intellectual pieces, and showcase the intellectual vitality of our quite disagreeable community. Most importantly, we’ll continue to build an even stronger heterodox political scene at Stanford.
We are the intellectual rebels and most importantly, you can be too! For any students lost and searching for a place where rational intellectual engagement is still alive, drop by a meeting or consider joining the Review. You have the opportunity to expose and elucidate some of the most crucial arguments of the decade. This is a moment that should not, and cannot, be wasted.
Mimi St Johns
Editor-in-Chief, Volume LXVI