Opinion

Some Notes On Living A Conservative Life

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In February of 1984, I took the train to New York with a young woman named Julie, who would later be my wife. We were both freshmen at Princeton, and we were on our way to Irving Kristol’s Institute for Educational Affairs, where we hoped to find funding to start a conservative student magazine. Once there, we were ushered into an office where a man behind a desk was looking over the paperwork we had sent him. He smiled and said: “It looks like someone has been reading Burke.” We won our first year’s funding at this meeting. The first issue of our magazine, The Princeton Tory, appeared in October and was followed by five more issues during the academic year. The magazine is still being published at Princeton today.

Why found a magazine instead of doing schoolwork? It cannot have been the obvious thing to do. We’d been on the campus for only five months at that time, and our lives were already quite full. Julie and I had met in physics lab a few weeks after arriving on campus. It was the conservation of momentum experiment, in which you used a camera and a strobe to capture a series of images of hockey pucks colliding on an air table. If you did it right, you could measure the velocity of the two pucks before and after the collision, and show that the total velocity times mass remained the same even though the speed of the pucks had changed.

Julie had been assigned to the lab group working at the air table next to mine, and she came over to ask for help operating the camera. I recognized her immediately from the face book. In those days, before the internet, the university printed up a physical book called a face book, which had the pictures of more than a thousand incoming freshmen in it. Each photograph was accompanied by the student’s name, hometown, and birthday. I had dutifully looked up every freshman who had the same birthday as mine, June 6. There were three students in my class with the same birthday, all of them women, and I had memorized their names, thinking it might be useful in starting a conversation. And so it was. When Julie brought her camera over to my table, I responded to her by name and asked if her birthday was June 6, which was my birthday as well. We ended up moving to an empty air table and doing the lab together.

The next day, we sat together in Professor Wilkinson’s introductory physics course, which the students called “the magic show.” We applauded as he successfully performed the experiments after describing them in chalk on the blackboard behind him. That night, we met at the student-run café under Murray-Dodge Hall, where the tables were lit with a single candle and the air was tinged with cinnamon from the cookies baking in the back room. That was the first time we really talked. A couple of weeks later, we drove up to Harvard in a car full of students to take part in the off-topic debate tournament being held over the weekend. By then, we were inseparable.

Julie was as beautiful a girl as I had ever met in my life. Her smile lit up the moody gothic halls of the campus in a way that left me in awe. But what made my attraction to her so powerful was the things she said when our conversation turned to politics and religion. She had grown up a Presbyterian in rural western Pennsylvania, and though she was no longer a Christian when we met—she was reading one of Bertrand Russell’s atheist tracts at the time—she was still a Republican.

The girls I had known growing up had almost all been liberals, which meant that when the conversation turned to something important, what I had to say was rarely appreciated. I still remember telling one of those high school girls that my forefathers had thought about me, just as I was thinking about my own grandchildren and their grandchildren, and that these ancestors had prayed that I would uphold and defend certain things in which they believed. She replied: “I can’t believe you walk around carrying all of that!”

But Julie was carrying some burdens of her own. She had grown up with a half-brother who was born with a severe disability, and I think she always knew his death was coming soon. One evening we went to dinner in town with another couple from my college. In those days, abortion was a major issue in every election campaign, and so the conversation easily turned to abortion.

Before dinner was served, the other young woman at the table had already announced that she intended to open an abortion clinic so no woman would have to bear a child she didn’t want. Julie’s eyes blazed with anger as she told us about her brother Kevin. When our conversation partner said such children should be aborted, Julie rose from the table and walked out. I apologized to my friends, but in my heart, I was rejoicing. I had never known this kind of woman before. I followed Julie out.

On the surface of things, Julie and I must have looked to be in the throes of a typical college romance, just like those friends of mine from the college. Princeton had only begun admitting women ten years earlier, and by now everyone understood (if there had ever been any doubt) that if you housed young men and women in the same dormitories, many of them would end up spending a considerable portion of their time this way.

But deeper things were taking place between us that only those who were very close to us could understand. Julie’s father had left her mother when she was two years old, and her mother was already then on her way to divorcing a second time. Her stepfather had been abusive and neither parent had been able to protect her. When I heard these stories, it was my turn to grow angry, and Julie was comforted by my anger, as I had been comforted by hers. I knew a thing or two about this kind of shattered family myself.

My father had moved out of the house the year before, leaving my violent and mentally ill mother to fend for herself. That had been his second marriage, and he married for a third time before I graduated. In fact, most of my friends in high school had been suffering through the breakup of their families. They handled these hardships badly. Many lost themselves in alcohol and drugs. Some had abortions. One took his own life. Few of them ended up married with children of their own.

Where Julie grew up, her friends decided to have the babies rather than aborting them. But they were raising them without fathers.

Between Julie and me, there sprang up a bond that reflected these depths. She was poor, but proud. When it turned out that she had only one contact lens, it took weeks of persuading before she would let me buy her a pair of glasses. I had not known the warmth of my mother’s touch since I was a small child, and I experienced Julie’s care for me as something akin to deliverance. Of course, neither of us had learned what a strong relationship between a man and a woman was like from our parents. But I had some idea from the year I had lived in Israel, spending sabbaths and holidays with my Uncle Isaac and Aunt Linda, Orthodox Jews living with their six children in a prefabricated home on a hillside an hour north of Jerusalem. And Julie had some idea from having lived on and off with her grandfather and her grandmother, Owen and Varda, devout Presbyterians who had raised five children in a home filled with music that was a pillar of their church.

When we spoke late into the nights, these things filled our conversations. Our schoolwork was pale and unimportant in comparison. The bond that sprang up between us was one that was full of hope and determination, although looking back on it now, I know we were also desperate. We longed for something we had seen and knew something about, although we didn’t really understand it: that home in which a husband and wife remained faithful their entire lives, into which children were born and could grow strong, in which life was precious and God’s blessings were tangible even in the face of tragedy and hardship. It was this that we built together in excited talk.

The bond, which we discussed in muted tones, was this: That I would be there for her—no matter what. That she would stay with me—no matter what. That we would raise children and grandchildren together. That we would not break as our own families had. Each of us wanted this more than anything else. But was it real? Can you believe in a nineteen-year-old boy? In an eighteen-year-old girl?

My father asked me what I was doing. I told him: “You need to trust me more. I won’t marry a woman who isn’t a Jew.”

I knew how much I owed my father, and there was never a moment when I considered betraying him. My loyalty to him and to my people was firm. I had told Julie the same thing on the window seat in her dorm room in Rockefeller College a few weeks after we met. I still remember that conversation. It was hard to say because I was afraid to hurt her. But I said it. I would only marry her if she were a Jew. It didn’t scare her. She had left the church long before coming to Princeton. Where she had grown up, the Old Testament was what she called “old-time religion.” It had borne God’s word. It had taken the Jews to the promised land. Perhaps it would take her there as well.

It is strange, now, thinking of us speaking of the promised land in that time, and in that place. In an Ivy League school, which had abandoned its Presbyterian past and was now adrift without direction. And yet, somehow, God lingered there. This was New Jersey, after all, and Bruce Springsteen’s songs blared through the courtyards on stereo speakers turned outward in the windows of the dormitories. And these songs were, strangely, about Julie and me—songs of hard luck, songs of pain and a desperate hope. Songs about a young man and a young woman running away together:

Well, I ain’t no hero, that’s understood

All the redemption I can offer, girl, is beneath this dirty hood With a chance to make it good somehow

Hey, what else can we do now?

Except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair

Well, the night’s busting open, these two lanes will take us anywhere

We got one last chance to make it real

To trade in these wings on some wheels

Climb in back, heaven’s waiting on down the tracks

Oh oh, come take my hand

We’re riding out tonight to case the promised land

Oh oh oh oh, Thunder Road

Oh, Thunder Road, Oh Thunder Road.

How many times did we hear that song about leaving for the promised land, and others that whispered similar things in our ears? The debate team sang “Thunder Road” on the way to every tournament, although it is hard to know why. What did these words mean to them?

I still don’t know. But for Julie and me, these words were always about us.

Yoram Hazony is the chairman of the Edmund Burke Foundation, and he serves as the president of the Herzl Institute in Jerusalem. You can follow him at @yhazony This article is an adapted excerpt from his new book, Conservatism: A Rediscovery, (Regnery Gateway, May 17, 2022), now available in bookstores and on Amazon.com.

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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