Legal scholar Robert P. George comments on the meaning of friendship across disagreement, the need for public virtues of courage and humility, and how to address political polarization and hateful divisions through seeking the truth, thinking critically and openly, and respecting the dignity and freedom of the other. Interview by Evan Rosa.
How do we heal from 2020? Yes, how do we heal from this pandemic, but how do we heal from the political rifts deeper than we can remember? How do we heal from physical distance that has isolated and alienated us from embodied presence and genuine connection with others? How do millions of public school children heal from remote learning and the psychological impact of disconnection?
How do we heal in a moment like this?
We’ve been trying to tackle this question in a variety of ways on the podcast, and we'll continue in upcoming episodes.
This week, we’re sharing a conversation I had with Robert P.George, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University.
We spoke just a few weeks before the election, really, as the frenzy and vitriol and worry started to peak. We spoke about American division and the punishing and apparently unrelenting hatred that can be on display in the disgust one side mutually feels for the other, even in the birthplace of modern democracy, where the idea of personal dignity grounds our freedom to live together. I asked him about what it means to achieve friendship across deep disagreement—something he’s become widely known for in his close friendship and collaboration with Cornel West. We spoke about the virtues of citizenship, including humility and courage; specifically the courage to stand for what you think is right even at the horror of being thought heretic in your tribe. This kind of homelessness from the tribe, especially for Christians who find themselves in tension with their tradition. He reflects on seeking the truth in a world where anyone can portray themselves as an expert and facts are no longer commonly regarded as such. I asked him to offer some practical steps toward mutual understanding and civil discourse, which prizes collaborating around a pursuit of the truth far over mere victory for power’s sake.
The kind of divisions we feel now—whether social distance or political distance—won’t be mended and healed with one strategy. So we’ll be bringing a variety of perspectives to bear on the question of healing. But the way Robert George frames civic friendship that shares a value for the truth and a commitment to respect for the other… maybe there’s some potential there.Thanks for listening today.
About Robert P. George
Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. He has served as chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), and before that on the President’s Council on Bioethics and as a presidential appointee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights. He has also served as the U.S. member of UNESCO’s World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST). He is a former Judicial Fellow at the Supreme Court of the United States, where he received the Justice Tom C. Clark Award. A graduate of Swarthmore College, he holds J.D. and M.T.S. degrees from Harvard University and the degrees of D.Phil., B.C.L., D.C.L., and D.Litt. from Oxford University. He has been a visiting professor at Harvard Law School and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Professor George is a recipient of many honors and awards, including the U.S. Presidential Citizens Medal, the Honorific Medal for the Defense of Human Rights of the Republic of Poland, the Canterbury Medal of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Sidney Hook Memorial Award of the National Association of Scholars, the Philip Merrill Award of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, the Bradley Prize for Intellectual and Civic Achievement, the Irving Kristol Award of the American Enterprise Institute, the James Q. Wilson Award of the Association for the Study of Free Institutions, Princeton University’s President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching, and the Stanley N. Kelley, Jr. Teaching Award of the Department of Politics at Princeton.
He has given honorific lectures at Harvard, Yale, the University of St. Andrews, Oxford University, and Cornell University, and holds twenty-one honorary degrees, including honorary doctorates of law, ethics, science, letters, divinity, humanities, law and moral values, civil law, humane letters, and juridical science.