Princeton Professor Lectures On Western Political Culture
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 31, 2013 17:01
As snow descended early Monday evening, students, administrators, and faculty alike gathered in Gasson Hall’s Irish Room for the first Clough Center lecture of the spring semester.
The Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy chose Robert George, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, to begin their Distinguished Lectures in Jurisprudence series for the spring, nearly filling the room to capacity.
The series, funded by its namesake Charles Clough, BC ’64, is one of the many avenues through which interdisciplinary speakers are brought to discuss the intricacies of constitutional governance. Vlad Perju, director of the center, stated that the purpose of the series was to “speak to the most important questions of political thought,” although he added the speakers include more than just political scientists.
George began his introductions by addressing Clough in the audience, thanking him for seeing the need to “set up a center to understand constitutionalism.” The professor went on to apologize jokingly for the admittedly dry title of his lecture, “Constitutional Structures and Political Culture.”
A theme carried throughout George’s lecture was the nomenclature the citizens of Western democracies use to describe their elected leaders: not “rulers,” but “public servants.” “They’re servants in a special sense,” he said. “The people that rule us, serve us by ruling us … Common good requires that there be rulers, and that they actually rule.”
Much of the political theory of George’s lecture centered on an issue with which most students at Boston College are well acquainted: the question of justice. “Justice is itself a common good and a central aspect of the common good … every single one of us has an interest in that,” he said.
Shifting from the abstract to the exemplary, George posited that the inadequate civic education system in the United States is the reason even the most learned of his students can’t answer the simple question, “How did our founding fathers protect us against tyranny?” He argued that the answer was to severely limit the powers of the U.S. federal government, stemming from the Constitution that George called “the best in the world.”
Venturing into the applications of this Madisonian reasoning, George watched as some of his assertions made the crowd, especially students, a bit uneasy. Speaking of what he viewed as the unconstitutionality of the judicial activism of the Supreme Court, George reasoned that incredibly significant decisions like Roe v. Wade and the upholding of the individual mandate component of President Barack Obama’s healthcare law were both unconstitutional.
Although not as direct, George also stirred the room with implied notions that American government had an obligation to preserve traditional marriage between a man and a woman. “Poor decisions by well-intentioned public officials can … undermine or weaken the marriage culture, and with it everything in society that depends on the health and vibrancy of marriage and the family,” he said.
The end of George’s lecture was met with tempered applause, but not before he praised BC as being an outstanding example of private religious educational institutions, which he considers are the best systems for instilling virtues in citizenry. Those people, he finished, are the bulwark for preserving “our freedom.”
Ellen Contois, A&S ’15, agreed with George that the degree to which the U.S. has strayed from the founders’ vision was “provocative.” “I feel like the preservation of traditional marriage is seemingly outdated and not in tune with liberal social thought,” she said. “As a political science major myself, I thought his argument was thoroughly defended but not necessarily something that I fully agree with.”