Editor's Note: The Purpose of a Pluralist


Editor's Note: The Purpose of a Pluralist

When he founded the magazine National Review in 1955, William F. Buckley, Jr. said that the purpose of a conservative is to “stand athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”

These days, it’s hard to say what a conservative is, or who is one. Donald Trump? Mitt Romney? If you ask the right person, maybe even Joe Biden… What about The Stanford Review? Well, it’s complicated.

The Review was founded in 1987 with three purposes in mind: to present alternative views on a wide range of issues, to create a forum for rational debate, and to challenge those who disagree to participate.

At Stanford, ‘alternative views’ have mostly been those on the political right. In a campus environment like ours, it falls to just a few students to fill the political void left by faculty, administrators, and the student body, who skew overwhelmingly and increasingly liberal.

This is a curious duty we find ourselves with, but we take it very seriously. When campus debate is dominated by left-wing ideologues, many students whose views diverge from that consensus simply don’t engage at all.

At the Review, we are many things: conservatives, libertarians, populists, centrists, classical liberals, Republicans, independents, and contrarians (cliché notwithstanding). Or, if you ask some of our fans: “a whiny conservative rag,” “a republican incubator,” “hardly the pinnacle of objective reporting,” and “an online publication that has plagued our campus since 1987.”

As Editor, I’d like to add a new word to the Review lexicon.

pluralist (noun) - a person who believes that the existence of different types of people, beliefs, and opinions within a society is a good thing

I’m a proud pluralist, and it’s sad to me that this position has become controversial at Stanford. As far as I know, I am the only Editor in Chief of the Review who also lived in a vegetarian, far-left activist co-operative house (and loved it!). Unfortunately, an experience like mine is something of a fluke. Many students never really live or engage productively with peers who hold different political beliefs. In some cases, students actually advocate against it, or shame those who keep friendships across political divides. A small but significant proportion of Stanford liberals simply don’t believe that anyone right of center has a place here.

This academic anti-pluralism is destructive to the purpose of a University, but the problem is not limited to college campuses, or to the left. On the contrary, both the left and right are responsible for polarization and tribalization in American public life. In recent years we have seen the disturbing normalization of political violence, rapid encroachments on free expression and internet freedom, and the rise of blacklists of political enemies and cancellations of ordinary citizens.

In 2021, chaotic events like the Capitol insurrection, violence and destruction in the streets of American cities, and the COVID-19 pandemic, have made pluralism a difficult and unpopular position to take. Pluralism is messy, to put it mildly. It’s only natural to want to do away with The Other Side, evil reprobates that they are. Just imagine what you could accomplish without opposition, without dissent! But it’s precisely at times like these that Americans must embrace pluralism, or we risk losing what Lincoln called “the last, best hope of Earth.”

The purpose of a pluralist is to stand athwart the witch hunt and yell, They’re not witches! To stand on your chair inside the echo chamber and yell, We’re still here! To stand for the great American political traditions of democratic debate and compromise. And to defend the rights of everyone -- even the most unpopular, or your own opponents -- to participate.

I should clarify that defending the existence of a broad range of thought does not mean one must subscribe to every idea, or pretend to approve of them. So we will still argue with conviction, and give no rhetorical quarter to the ideas we oppose. We’ll still advance our own bold ideas. We’ll disrupt consensus and question orthodoxy, liberal or otherwise.

In Volume LXIV, expect to see writing on the most important cultural and political issues facing us at Stanford and in our country. Woke culture, student activism, free speech, Silicon Valley, the threat from China, the Biden Administration, the Stanford Administration, and the future of the political right are all on the table. We’ll cover the things that affect Stanford students, and expose them to the issues they haven’t considered.

So, as we like to say around here: The Stanford Review is here to stay! We will never stop defending a free, pluralist society, at Stanford or anywhere else it’s threatened. We will continue to plague our beautiful campus with our principles -- and yes, provocations -- for many years to come.

I hope you’ll join us! If you’re a Stanford student looking for a more robust debate than you’ll find in the classroom or other campus ideological bubbles, reach out to me at eic@stanfordreview.org.

Maxwell Meyer

Editor in Chief, Volume LXIV


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