I read David Walter’s article on the state of conservatism at Princeton with great interest because I was deeply involved with conservative groups as an undergraduate. I was a writer, editor, and publisher of the Tory, the treasurer of the College Republicans, and a member of the Madison program and the Clio party. Although I was not involved with the Anscombe Society or Princeton Pro Life, I was friends with many people who were.
I was at Princeton from 2008 to 2012, so my experience was very different from that of today’s conservative students. Most political conversations I had centered around topics like the economy, the national debt, and foreign policy, rather than the types of very online culture-war themes that Walter describes. Unlike the students and alumni featured in the article, I generally found that liberal and progressive students were willing to engage with conservatives and libertarians in thoughtful, respectful conversations on those issues. This was a time of center-left dominance at the national level, with Barack Obama in the White House and Democrats in Congress using their comfortable margins to pass sweeping reform bills like the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank. Seemingly assured of a permanent majority in American politics, liberals and progressives may have been more inclined to treat conservatives and libertarians as a harmless relic of the past, rather than the existential threat that some now perceive us to be.
After graduating, I didn’t remain politically engaged. I went to work in an apolitical field, ended up in an area where conservative voices are marginalized, and felt politically homeless in Donald Trump’s Republican Party. I share the skepticism about Princeton’s direction expressed by conservative thinkers like Hazony and Schmitz, and I’m outraged by the excesses of cancel culture and sympathetic toward its victims, but I’m not gearing up to wage online battle with social justice warriors. In other words, I’ve dropped out of “movement conservatism” and settled into what you might call “normie conservatism.” I suspect many of my fellow Princeton conservatives have followed similar trajectories.