As a conservative leader at Princeton University, Thomas Z. Horton is following closely in the footsteps of a fellow Princetonian, Senator Ted Cruz. Like his mentor, Horton is not afraid to represent liberty and conservatism on campus. He currently serves as editor in chief of the Princeton Tory, the ISI Collegiate Network–sponsored publication on campus. In addition, he stands as the one-man conservative minority on the Daily Princetonian’s editorial board. Beyond the realm of politics and philosophy, Horton enjoys a unique hobby: playing didgeridoo in the Princeton University Band.
ISI recently caught up with Thomas to talk about his experience as a conservative leader at Princeton, his internship with Senator Ted Cruz, his best moments with ISI, and what his future might look like.
- How did you find out about ISI?
My first exposure to ISI came by way of an ISI-sponsored lecture on campus. First Things editor Russell R. Reno gave a talk at the Whig-Cliosophic Society about the lack of intellectual diversity in academia. The event served as an excellent introduction to the Intercollegiate Studies Institute; by promoting Western values and intellectual tradition, ISI is greatly contributing to intellectual diversity in places that are by and large ruled by the secular liberal elite.
- If you had to choose one highlight of your undergraduate experience, what would it be?
That experience is presently ongoing: taking Constitutional Interpretation with Professor Robert P. George (author of Conscience and Its Enemies from ISI Books) this semester. Professor George is among the very best scholars and lecturers at Princeton—and moreover, he is a stalwart defender of civil liberty and the natural law tradition. Learning from him is a blessing and certainly a highlight of my undergraduate experience.
- What have you valued most about your ISI experience?
The Honors Program Summer Conference. It was one week of nonstop intellectual rigor and learning from brilliant professors, a varied and remarkable set of students, and an assortment of readings and discussions on some of the greatest thinkers on rights and duties. Even the evening free hours were occupied by continued discussion of matters ranging from Thomism to Whit Stillman films.
- How have you spent your summers while in college?
My first summer I spent as the sailing director and counselor at Camp Grady Spruce on Possum Kingdom Lake in Texas. I was able to give back to the place that gave me so much. There’s hardly a more meaningful way to spend a summer than serving as a role model and mentor for kids of the next generation. This past summer, I had the opportunity to intern in the Washington, D.C., office of Senator Ted Cruz from Texas. Serving a man who is serving our nation through strong, principled leadership was a rewarding and enriching experience.
- Whom do you admire most, and why?
Jesus Christ. But if He were disqualified on the basis of the hypostatic union as an unfair advantage, I would have to say I most admire my preparatory school form master Peter Saliga. At Cistercian Prep School in Irving, Texas, each form (grade) is assigned a master who guides the form through all eight years of social, academic, and spiritual growth. Mr. Saliga remains the most engaging and inspiring mentor I have ever had. His example as an intellectual, a family man, and—moreover—a man of faith has fundamentally shaped who I am.
- What advice would you give to other students who want to preserve the principles of liberty?
First, know the difference between natural and civil liberty and defend the latter. As St. Francis of Assisi is thought to have said, “Always preach the Gospel. Use words if necessary.” To preach the gospel of liberty, you must first live accordingly—that is, live as a virtuous and an active citizen. Then, when voice must be given to the principles of liberty for their very preservation, do as Senator Cruz instructs his interns: learn to “win the argument.” Read the great thinkers—from Aristotle to Hayek to Kirk—and be ready to articulate the winning arguments clearly and succinctly.
- What are your plans for after graduation?
Ultimately, start a business and raise a family. In the shorter term, learn banking in New York for a couple of years and then earn a JD-MBA. Perhaps at some point later on in life, I may be called to defend liberty through public service. But, as the Woody Allen adage goes, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”