Hadley Arkes of Amherst College (since 1966!) would make the top of the Power Line 100 Best Professors list if we went either by alphabetical order or any kind of semi-objective scoring system. Hadley is the Edward Ney Professor of American Institutions at Amherst, and is also affiliated with our friends at the Claremont Institute’s Center for the Jurisprudence of the Natural Law, whose fine blog, right-reason.org, is worth bookmarking.
I’ll skip over a recitation of his several fine books, as well as a description of his two online offerings on “First Principles and Natural Law” available on Audible.com, and get to the heart of the matter—his skillful presentation of the most serious themes of moral reasoning in our time. There’s a story told about the student who, upon showing up for the first day of Prof. Arkes’s class on “Political Obligation,” objected to his opening remark that merely restated the title of the course. Prof. Arkes discovered that this student had been instructed that if he let go the very first thing Prof. Arkes said, he would never be able to work his way out of the argument. Yes, he’s that good.
For example, one of his typically original and erudite discussions of the vexing question of abortion (in First Things, chapter 16) begins thus:
Anyone in America who writes these days about abortion must take account of the landmark decision of the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade; and in estimating the “quality of mind” manifested by the Court, he would have to regard that profundity which stands near the beginning of Justice Blackmun’s opinion for the majority: “Pregnancy often comes more than once to the same woman, and . . . if man is to survive, [pregnancy] will always be with us.” One becomes aware instantly that one is in the presence of no ordinary mind.
BOOM!—as Jon Stewart would say.
So here are two videos well worth your time, the first an excerpt from a Princeton lecture on natural law (scroll ahead to the 5:50 mark of this first video; the second two installments can be found here and here), and the second, an hour long, is an interview with Hadley by Christopher Wolfe of Marquette University, wherein Hadley explains the trajectory of his career. Worth the time; it is a fascinating tale.