The Power Line 100: Robert P. George

Obviously Princeton’s Robert P. George was going to end up on the Power Line 100, but this seems like the ideal week to do it, since he’s in New Jersey and . . . well, there’s this U.S. Senate seat suddenly open, and if Gov. Chris Christie really wants to send an interesting message that he isn’t about politics as usual, he’d think about sending Robbie to Washington for a few months as New Jersey’s interim senator, rather than some legacy appointment like Tom Kean Jr.  (Look, Cory Booker—a good man—is going to win the special election anyway, so come on big guy, have some fun with this appointment.)

But back to Robbie.  He is the McCormick professor in jurisprudence at Princeton—the chair originally created for Woodrow Wilson, and filled later by the great Edward Corwin—a rather remarkable pedigree.  He also founded and directs the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, which actually stands up for American ideals at Princeton.  He was a member of President Bush’s Council on Bioethics.  The New York Times called him “The Conservative-Christian Big Thinker.”  The Nation magazine predictably blew a gasket about Robbie’s presence at Princeton: their headline is hilarious: “Princeton Tilts Right.”  Let’s see if I have this right: a big, Ivy League university has one prominent conservative, and that’s enough for The Nation to declare that the university tilts right?  Just one?  No wonder campus liberals work so hard to maintain an embargo against conservative faculty.  Maybe Harvey Mansfield was right to point out that one conservative is worth fifty liberals on campus.

One of the more interesting things Robbie does is team-teach a Great Books course with . . . Cornel West.  I asked Robbie recently how this goes down, and he said: “Splendidly!”  Because West in a classroom is a different person than West on the hustings (or in a rap music studio), and he takes the Great Books seriously.  Conversely, this faculty profile conveys why Robbie is admired by students on all parts of the spectrum:

“Constitutional Interpretation” is legendary at Princeton. The course has been taught for more than a century, ever since Woodrow Wilson stood at the lectern in 1879. George’s course stimulates students to explore their deepest beliefs and assumptions about what it means to be an American.

“The course is designed in such a way that students, whether they are coming from left, right or center on these very controversial issues of constitutional interpretation, are challenged,” says George. “I make it a point to elicit from students the very best arguments for the competing perspectives, whether we’re talking about the death penalty or abortion or presidential war powers.”

The point of the course, George says, is not to present his own views. Instead, he says, “I want to make sure all my students understand why it is that reasonable, well-informed people of good will can be found on both or all sides of the question.”

That’s how college professors ought to conduct themselves.  Anyway, there are lots of lectures and speeches from Robbie on YouTube, but here’s an especially good seven-minute excerpt of some remarks on the nature of religious freedom given at Georgetown.  And needless to say: Robbie George for Senate!


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