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Can conservatives survive on campus? Princeton professor Robert P. George on being an intellectual minority in academia

Podcast & Video

This episode features host Sean Speer in conversation with Robert P. George, McCormick professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, about his recent lecture at the University of British Columbia entitled “The Truth-Seeking Mission of the University” and his experiences as an intellectual minority on the university campus.

You can listen to this episode of Hub Dialogues on Acast, Amazon, Apple, Google, Spotify, or YouTube. The episodes are generously supported by The Ira Gluskin And Maxine Granovsky Gluskin Charitable Foundation.

SEAN SPEER: Welcome to Hub Dialogues. I’m your host, Sean Speer, editor-at-large at The Hub. I’m honoured to be joined today by Robert P. George, the McCormick professor of jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University.

Professor George, who’s widely viewed as America’s leading conservative intellectual, has thought and written extensively about philosophy, constitutionalism, law and religion, and various other fundamental topics. I should say, though, that I particularly admire him for his model of institution-building and intellectual leadership.

At a time when a lot of conservatives are inclined to abandon major cultural institutions, like universities, Professor George has shown how to engage within these institutions with grace, decency, and intellectual seriousness. He recently gave a lecture at the University of British Columbia, sponsored by the Runnymede Society entitled “The Truth-Seeking Mission of the University.” I’m grateful to speak with him about the key ideas of his lecture, as well as his experiences and perspectives as an intellectual minority on the university campus. Professor George, thank you for joining us at Hub Dialogues.

ROBERT P. GEORGE: It’s an honour to be on the show. Thanks for having me on The Hub, Sean.

SEAN SPEER: In your UBC lecture you argue that “Universities first and foremost exist to pursue truth.” Let’s start with a two-part question. First, what do you mean by capital “T“ Truth? Second, if universities have abandoned this foundational mission, what in your view have they come to replace it with?

ROBERT P. GEORGE: It doesn’t matter to me whether you use lowercase or uppercase when it comes to truth, whether it’s capital T Truth or lowercase t truth. Truth is what is the case about the world? Truth is what knowledge is knowledge of. If we have knowledge at all, it’s knowledge of truth. We want to know what reality is. Did Washington cross the Delaware or did Washington not cross the Delaware? Was it Ulysses S. Grant to whom Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse to end the American Civil War or was it Dwight David Eisenhower?

Those are elementary questions, elementary truths. There are profound truths. Truths about meaning and value, ultimacy, God, human dignity, very, very important truths, but universities are about truth-seeking, and that’s true in the natural sciences, and chemistry, and biology, and physics, and astronomy. It’s true in the social sciences, economics, sociology, anthropology, political science, and it’s true in the humanities. Even in interpretative disciplines and disciplines where we’re trying to discern the meaning of literary text, for example.

Literature, philosophy, religious studies, these are humanistic disciplines. Universities exist, they’re justified, the paying of salaries to people like me is justified, because we want to get at the truth of the matter and we want institutions that will enable people to devote themselves as scholars and as students to getting at the truth of things, and we want to teach our young men and women to be determined truth seekers and courageous truth speakers, and we want them to be lifelong pursuers of truth, lifelong learners.

There is no other justification for universities existing and taking up resources and taking up space and paying people like me salaries. If I’m using my university position not to seek the truth about the subject matters of my field of inquiry, but for other reasons, then I should go get a respectable job in maybe selling insurance or used cars or something like that. If I’m going to occupy a chair at a university and accept a paycheque from the university, I need to be about the business of pursuing truth, and I need to be nurturing and forming my students as truth seekers, inculcating in them the virtues that are necessary to be determined truth seekers and courageous truth speakers and lifelong learners.

Now, of course, universities can be thrown off track by lots of things, and if we look at the history of universities we can easily identify some of them. I’m not sure about the situation in Canada now or historically, but there have been times, and it’s true in some universities today, in which an over-emphasis on competitive athletics has deflected the university from its fundamental mission as a truth-seeking institution. Athletics can absorb resources and attention and time in ways that detract from the intellectual mission.

Now as it happens, I support having competitive collegiate athletics. I’m someone who’s in favour of that, but only to the extent and only if athletics does not deflect us from our mission. If it becomes such an obsession that it is detracting from the truth-seeking mission of the university, then athletics has to be reformed or gotten rid of because we don’t exist for athletics, we exist for truth-seeking. The same is true in some of the arts, the areas of the arts. I think they have a very proper, appropriate place in universities, but like athletics, if they are deflecting us away from our truth-seeking mission, then we need to reform the arts.

The same is true with careerism. Yes, it’s a good thing for universities to be training students in ways that will enable them to get good jobs. I’m for that. I want my students to get good jobs. I want them to make money. I want them to give some of the money back to Princeton University. They can direct it to the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. We have a great tradition in the United States, I don’t know if you have it in Canada, of our alumni, our old members expressing their gratitude for their educations by making financial contributions. Princeton is one of those institutions that has had so many very, very successful alumni, successful financially, that we’ve benefited hugely from that giving.

If careerism displaces the intellectual mission, the truth-seeking mission of the university, if we’ve instrumentalized knowledge and knowledge-seeking to the point where we’re more interested in the careers of our students than in shaping and forming them to be lovers of truth, lifelong learners, then we’ve got to reform the situation. Finally, the same applies to things like politics, the pursuit of what some today call social justice.

It’s fine to have groups on campus that advocate for political causes, the libertarians, the socialists, the Republicans, the Democrats, the group that wants to raise the minimum wage, and the group that wants Laissez-faire economics. All those are fine. They have a place, but they are not fundamentally what the university is about. The fundamental mission of the university is not to pursue social justice, anybody’s particular view of social justice or social justice generally.

That doesn’t mean there’s no place for these causes within universities, but they’re not fundamentally what the university is about, and if they deflect us away from the truth-seeking mission, if we become propaganda organizations for this or that view of politics or social justice or economic well-being or what have you, then we need to reform the situation and get back on track, back to our proper mission to seek the truth, to transmit to our students a love of truth, and the resources and the virtues that they need to be honest, sincere truth seekers.

SEAN SPEER: In your lecture and more generally in your commentary, you’ve talked about the social pressure that students and faculty face to both conform to and police for what you describe as a “dominant orthodoxy.” Before we even get into some of these social phenomena, including when and how they started and how they manifest themselves, it probably makes sense that we start with a basic question: How would you characterize the dominant orthodoxy?

ROBERT P. GEORGE: Well, it’s an ideology that we now describe as woke. It’s on the Left. It places a particular image of social justice at the centre of things. It at least claims to be in favour of a radical equality. Not the traditional equality of, say, the American Declaration of Independence. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. That is equal and worth in dignity. It aims rather at equality of resources, equality of results. There’s a certain socialistic and, in many cases, Marxist element to it. It has embraced a radically expressive individualist, philosophical anthropology and it is socially extremely liberal. It opposes traditional ideas about sexual morality in marriage, the sanctity of human life.

It’s turned those causes into villains. If you stand up as I do for the sanctity of human life in all stages and conditions, the woke ideology will have you smeared as a misogynist. If you stand up for traditional norms of sexual morality in marriage, will be smeared as a homophobe or a transphobe or you’ll be called another name. That’s the basic ideology. The trouble, although I think that ideology is badly mistaken, my fundamental critique of it for the purposes of our current conversation is not that it’s wrong about all that stuff, though I think it is, sanctity of human life, marriage in the family, economic policy, social policy.

I think it is wrong about all that stuff, but my problem with it, for the purposes of our conversation, is it brooks no dissent. It seeks to shut down any criticism of it. It uses techniques like smearing people as racists or homophobes or transphobes or bigots. It uses that strategy of intimidation and bullying to silence opposition, to prevent any challenges to its hegemony on campus and beyond campus.

The main movements within universities to suppress free speech come from this ideological corner. People are “canceled.” Their careers are ruined, their future educational opportunities are damaged if they get labeled this or that bad thing as a result of having challenged the woke on any of the issues that they care about. You cannot run a truth-seeking institution, you cannot run a university where you don’t have conditions of intellectual freedom.

That’s what woke ideology is destroying in at least the American university setting. They’re destroying the conditions for truth-seeking, especially academic freedom, freedom of speech. Faculty and students need to be free and feel free to challenge whatever the dominant ideas are. They need to be free and feel free to question anything. I want to extend that freedom to people on the Left, people who radically disagree with me. I think there are good reasons to do that. The first of those is, I could be wrong and they could be right. I’m never going to know that if I shut down their free speech and don’t give them an opportunity to persuade me of the wrongness of my position and the rightness of their position.

Or they may be partially right and I might be partially right, but I might also be partially wrong even if they’re partially wrong. Well, unless I let them challenge me, I’m never going to be able to correct the parts of my thinking that in fact are untrue. I want to be a truth seeker. I want to get the truth. I want to get the false beliefs, some of which I know are in there in my head, I want to get those out of my head, but I don’t know which ones they are and I won’t know if I don’t let people challenge me. Well, the same applies to them. They’re not going to get their false beliefs out of their heads. I happen to think they got a lot of false beliefs in their heads.

Even they, I hope, would have the humility to recognize their own fallibility and understand that they’ve got to have some false beliefs in their head, but unless they let people like me or you challenge them, they’re never going to get those false beliefs out. If they suppress our free speech, if they shut us down, if they cancel and get rid of us so that we can’t participate in the conversation, then they’re going to persist in whatever errors they have because the only speech they’re ever going to hear are people reinforcing what they happen already to believe, including all the falsehoods. That’s how I look at it.

SEAN SPEER: One thing that has struck me about being on a university campus is how few people actually believe this stuff. It’s like the Soviet Union in the sense that there are a small number of true believers, but most others are just trying to get along. Is that your experience, Professor George, and if so, how do you explain the hold that an energized yet small minority can have on these institutions?

ROBERT P. GEORGE: I don’t think that’s quite right. At least that’s not my experience. It’s not a small minority. It’s probably, at this point, a majority on both the faculty and in the student body. I think what you might be perceiving here, if I’m right, this is the situation: They’re a small minority who hold it fiercely but add to them those who hold woke ideology, but hold it relatively weakly or at least not fiercely. Then I think you’ve got a majority. There are very few people who will stand up for victims when a victim is targeted by the woke and isolated and made an example of.

What we need are more people, be they on the Left or the Right, with the courage to not flee for cover when someone else is being unjustly attacked and their free speech rights or other academic freedom rights are being violated. I think, at least from my own experience, it would be a mistake to say this is really just a very tiny minority tyrannizing a majority. I don’t think that’s true.

SEAN SPEER: One of the reasons that this orthodoxy has taken such a stronghold on university campuses is the decline of intellectual diversity. As a conservative scholar, you’re something of a rare species. There are different arguments about why there are so few conservatives on campus. Some argue that conservatives self-select out of academia. Others argue that the system, including hiring, grant funding, promotion, et cetera, is biased against conservatives. Do you have a view, Dr. George? What’s the relative role of these different factors?

ROBERT P. GEORGE: Well, first, let’s get rid of the asinine accounts of why there are so few conservatives compared to people on the Left on campus. Asinine explanation number one is that people on the Left are a lot smarter than people on the Right, a lot more intelligent people on the Right. That’s silly. Anybody who knows anything about anything knows how silly that is. It’s remarkable that you’ll still hear that account given by otherwise respectable people on college campuses, but as I say, it’s asinine.

The second asinine account is that there are so few conservatives because conservatives like money and folks on the Left like ideas. Conservatives go into business to make money and folks on the Left go into academia to pursue ideas. That’s almost as asinine as the first explanation. More credible, for reasons I’ll explain, is the idea that conservatives self-select out these days. That has nothing to do with wanting money rather than to engage with ideas. It has everything to do with fear that as a conservative, one cannot survive in academic life or one will be victimized, one will be discriminated against, subjected to double standards, all of which do happen on university campuses.

Some people just say, “I don’t need that, I don’t want that.” In a better world, I would want to be a professor of English literature or astronomy or anthropology. This is not a better world, this is the world we live in. Even though the academic field that I love itself has nothing to do with politics, maybe it’s chemistry, maybe it’s astronomy. I don’t want to be in an environment where people who hold my moral or religious or political beliefs are going to be vilified the way they are in academic life. I can understand why some people self-select out of that.

You said a very true thing a moment ago, Sean. You said part of the problem with—one of the sources is the attacks on academic freedom, the reason academic freedom is eroded quite badly over the last number of years is the lack of viewpoint diversity. Well, it becomes a vicious cycle. The lack of viewpoint diversity undermines academic freedom, and then the fact that there’s not academic freedom means that you get less viewpoint diversity.

You got to break out of that vicious cycle somehow. It’s best, of course, not to get into it, but once you’re in it, you’re just going to have to do your best to get out of it. Many, many universities, at least here in the United States, I’m not, again, sure what the situation is in your own country, but here in the United States, an awful lot of universities are in it. 

SEAN SPEER: Conservatives have responded to these developments in different ways. I want to get your perspective on some of these different reactions.

One approach is probably best defined as the “Benedict Option”, whereby conservatives are increasingly withdrawing from major cultural institutions and instead organizing themselves into smaller alternative institutions. You’ve chosen a different path. Let me ask you, why is the Benedict Option wrong, and more importantly, how have you succeeded as a scholar and institution builder within the belly of the beast, so to speak?

ROBERT P. GEORGE: Well, I do believe that in addition to building alternative academic and para-academic institutions, I’m not against that, so I’m saying in addition to doing that where we can, it’s important to build infrastructure within existing institutions. I would not characterize that infrastructure as conservative infrastructure. Universities still at least profess certain ideals, the dispassionate, disinterested pursuit of knowledge, the desire to engage the very best arguments on the competing sides of important questions, the importance of academic freedom, the importance of viewpoint diversity. Universities still profess those ideals.

We need to build infrastructure that exemplifies those ideals, that embodies those ideals. We should be the model within the university, as a unit of the university, of what the university itself ought to be and still professes to be. At Princeton, the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions is, strictly speaking, not a conservative program. I’m a conservative, but the program is not.

My ambitions with the program are to show everyone in the university what an institution looks like, or a program, or a unit within the university looks like when it is faithful to the university’s own professed ideals. There are people associated with the Madison Program who are, well, on the Left. My beloved friend, Cornel West, has been a visiting fellow of the Madison Program. There are faculty who vote very differently than the way I vote who are associated with the Madison Program. I think that’s the way forward, that’s the way to do it.

It’s an example of the old proverb or aphorism that says, “It’s much better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” Conservatives have been doing a lot of cursing at the darkness and Lord knows in academic life and the broader intellectual culture, there’s a lot of darkness to curse. If you want to spend your time cursing the darkness, you can spend time doing it, but let’s light a candle. The Madison Program is a candle and it’s just flourishing. There are candles like the Madison Program that have now popped up all over the United States.

The Program in Human Flourishing at Harvard under the wonderful Tyler VanderWeele. The Program in Moral Philosophy under the equally wonderful Candace Vogler at the University of Chicago. The Program in Markets at the University of Pennsylvania under Jesús Fernández-Villaverde in the Economics Department at Penn is another great example. The Paul McHugh Program in Human Flourishing at Johns Hopkins University in the medical school there, named after the magisterial professor of psychiatry, Paul McHugh.

The New School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University under Paul Carrese. That’s a great program. The Program in Public Discourse at Duke University under Dr. John Rose and Dr. Farr Curlin and Dr. Jed Atkins. That’s a fantastic program. Those are these candles burning in the darkness and suddenly throwing a light across the campus. They’re having an impact not only within their individual units, they have an impact on the larger culture of the university. That’s what I want to do.

Now, you do sometimes have to build infrastructure because there are some institutions, especially para-academic institutions, that are resistant to having infrastructure built within them. I noticed some years ago that the very famous distinguished Rhodes Scholarship Program, which sends Canadians and Americans and South Africans and others to Oxford, seems to have lost its way, seems to be selecting with a heavy ideological bias, thumb on the scales.

We were able to create an alternative called the Barry Scholars Programs, B-A-R-R-Y, and it’s functioning here in the United States, only in the United States at the moment. It may eventually expand to Canada and elsewhere. Again, it’s trying to do what the Rhodes Scholars Program was set up to do, professes to do, once no doubt did, but doesn’t seem, at least to me, to be doing quite so well these days. You can build alternatives to those kinds of institutions.

Of course, in the United States, there are some people trying to build whole new universities. University of Austin, for example, is an effort in that direction. I support anybody who is making a thoughtful effort to light a candle. There are different ways to do it. I don’t think we should favour these and not those. I think we should get behind anyone who’s giving it what we call in the United States the good old college try.

SEAN SPEER: Another reaction is a growing movement on the Right, broadly defined, that seems to want to match the excesses of the intolerant Left, and abandon viewpoint neutrality and their own commitment to pluralism. If I was being fair, proponents of this view would argue that the other side is bringing a bazooka to the public square, and we can’t rely on words alone. We ourselves need to turn the dial of power in favour of our own preferences. What do you think about that, Professor George? Why is that view wrong?

ROBERT P. GEORGE: It profiteth a man nothing to give his soul for the entire world. The soul of academia is truth-seeking. Truth-seeking has certain conditions and it requires certain virtues. Those conditions include intellectual freedom, freedom of thought, freedom of inquiry, freedom of discussion, freedom of expression. Those virtues include humility, intellectual humility, a recognition that one might be wrong, a recognition that one surely is wrong about some things, and that one would be better off getting straightened out about the things one’s wrong about, which gives you a conclusive reason to welcome challenges, even to one’s most fundamental, most deeply cherished, to one’s identity-forming beliefs.

It’s for the sake of truth and truth seeking that we honour the rights even of those we think are profoundly wrong about political or moral or religious and other matters, that we honour their rights to think for themselves and speak their minds and to challenge us. I don’t want to be a partisan. I don’t care about tribes. I’m not a tribalist. I care about truth. I want to get more of it. I think I’ve got some, but even there, I know I’m fallible, and if I’m wrong, I want to be straightened out about it. I know I’m wrong about—there have to be things I’m wrong about. I’m fallible. I’ve changed my minds about things in the past, undoubtedly will in the future.

I need to hear what the arguments are, the reasons, the arguments. I think we need to be prepared to do business with anybody, Left, Right, centre, socialist, libertarian, whatever they are, who’s willing to do business with us in the proper currency of intellectual discourse, and that is a currency consisting of reasons, arguments, and evidence.

Now, I don’t have to respect and honour people who shout epithets at other people, call other people names, threaten people, try to intimidate people. I’ve no patience for that. I’m not going to protect a right to do that stuff. I do want to protect and honour the rights of anybody who’s prepared to do business in the currency of reasons and arguments and evidence. That’s the currency of truth-seeking, the currency of truth-seeking discourse. To me, it’s not a tribal contest where we’re bringing knives and bazookas. We need to be about the business of truth-seeking.

SEAN SPEER: Let me ask a penultimate question. Do you have any advice for young conservatives who may aspire to a career on campus? How can they be true to themselves and still have a successful academic career?

ROBERT P. GEORGE: First, I need to say there is no guarantee. I think you need to discern and live out your vocation no matter who you are. If your vocation is to truth-seeking, we all have a certain vocation to truth-seeking. All of us should try to get out the truth, especially the most important questions in life. We can’t pawn those off on other people to do for us. Some things you have to do for yourself. Some things people can’t, other people can’t do for you. Deciding, understanding, trying to get at what your life means, what’s ultimately important, your religious convictions, your basic moral convictions, you have to do that for yourself. You have to think.

There’s a special sense in which some people, I believe I’m one, are called to a professional career in scholarship. For those who discern that vocation, they should start being determined truth seekers and courageous truth speakers from the start. Now, this advice is counter to what they’re going to hear from just about everybody else. I could be wrong about it. I don’t think I am, but they should hear the other side as well.

Here’s my side. My side is don’t listen to the people who say, lay low, hide, stay out of controversy until you get a good academic job or a permanent academic job, or a tenured academic job. One of my older academic friends when I was starting out, knowing that I was the sort who was prone to speak my mind and get into controversies and trouble advised me to lay low, stay out of controversies, keep your mouth shut until you get tenure, and then you can hoist the Jolly Roger.

I didn’t have the temperament for that, and I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t go into academic life to do that. I went into academic life to seek the truth and to speak the truth as best I understand it, as God gives me to see it. You may hear resonance, if you know anything about the American Civil War, to Lincoln’s famous addresses, especially his second inaugural address.

I wasn’t about to hide and lay low and wait to get tenure to hoist the Jolly Roger. You can, I suppose. Most people would advise you if you’re just starting out as an academic and you’re in dissent from the dominant woke orthodoxy. Most people probably would advise you to lay low and then wait till you get tenure and the hoist the Jolly Roger, but there’s no guarantee you’re going to succeed that way either.

In most cases, they’ll figure you out or else you’re going to seem slippery. They’re going to wonder, “Oh, wait a minute, what’s with this person?” I suppose you could orient your research toward things that are not controversial or something like that. I don’t know, is that any way to way to live? In any case, there’s no guarantee that’s going to work. There’s no guarantee that you won’t be a victim if you do it my way. There will be victims, there will be some, there are going to be casualties in any struggle like this. There are going to be casualties, but there’s no guarantee that you’re going to lose. There’s no guarantee that you won’t be successful.

I flew into the face of every orthodoxy there was on my campus when I was starting out, long before I had tenure. Somehow by the grace of God, I have not only survived but thrived. I can’t think of anything I’d like Princeton University to do for me that it hasn’t already done. It’s conferred every honour and recognition it has on me. It’s installed me in an endowed chair. It’s given me every teaching prize I think I’m eligible to be considered for. It has allowed me to create and build my own program, now a huge successful program within the university, the James Madison program in American Ideals and Institutions.

There’s at least some evidence that you can make it. I don’t actually have any magic. Some people think I’ve got—I don’t have magic. I just speak the truth as best I understand the truth, and give my reasons, and make my arguments, and refuse to be intimidated, and refuse to be bullied, and demand that other people give me their reasons and arguments and evidence. That seems to have worked pretty well.

SEAN SPEER: You mentioned your friendship with Cornel West. Let’s wrap up with a question about your relationship. If listers don’t know, West is a self-described socialist who, in addition to his academic scholarship, has actively supported Bernie Sanders’ two presidential campaigns. Yet not only have you written and spoken together, but you seem to genuinely like each other. What’s the purpose of your collaboration, which has been described as an “ideological odd couple,” and what, Professor George, has been the reaction?

ROBERT P. GEORGE: Look, this is a straightforward, honest friendship. This is not something he and I cooked up. It’s not a show, it’s not a performance. I love him. He loves me. I respect him, he respects me. I admire him. He kindly says he admires me. What do we see in each other? Well, he’s on the socialist side. I’m on the conservative side. We don’t see eye to eye on that, but he’s a truth seeker, and I try to be a truth seeker.

He understands that there are conditions of truth-seeking that institutions need to honour, and he understands there are certain virtues that people have to have if you want to be a truth seeker. He understands the importance of academic freedom. He joined me as a founding member of the Academic Freedom Alliance. He understands the importance of the virtues of intellectual humility, courage in speaking the truth as God gives you to see the truth, the virtue of love of truth itself, love of truth above opinion.

He and I see 100 percent eye to eye on that. We go around the country preaching that gospel. There are a lot of things that we do agree on. The profound, inherent, and equal dignity of each and every member of the human family. Both of us at root are understanding of that great moral truth in the scriptural teaching at the very beginning of the Bible, the very first chapter, or the very first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis, where we’re told that God creates man in his own image and likeness. As such, of course, is the bearing of profound, inherent, and equal dignity. That’s a lot of sharing, right? That’s a lot of sharing.

The other thing is, he has intellectual integrity. He doesn’t posture, he doesn’t fake things. He tells you what he thinks and why he thinks it. He’s not concerned about how he looks, and he’s willing to defy his own tribe, as I am. He refused to support Hillary Clinton when she got the Democratic nomination in 2016 because he thought she was a fake and a phony and a fraud. I refused to support Donald Trump. I had a similar impression of him.

Now, just as I got accused of putting the country at risk of this terrible Hillary Clinton, he got accused of putting this country at risk of the terrible Donald Trump. There are lots of people on left that have never forgiven him for supporting Jill Stein over Donald Trump. Jill Stein was a minor third party, I think it was called Green Party candidate. I know that there’s some people on the conservative side who’ve never forgiven me for refusing to support Donald Trump.

I see the same approach to what it means to be a person of integrity in Cornel that led me to make the decision I made about not getting on the bandwagon and joining my tribe and supporting Donald Trump. You’ve got to stand up for certain things that are the non-negotiables. Things you just say, well, look, I’m going to take a stand on this. I just cannot support a candidate who crosses these lines. That’s just one minor example from the political domain. I could say countless from across the spectrum areas of human life.

I’ve seen Cornel support conservative candidates for hiring and promotion in academic life when folks on the Left were ganging up against them. That’s integrity. What is there not to like about that? What is there not to admire? He’s really lovable. He’s just a sweet-tempered, sweet-natured. Very occasionally, people have gotten the wrong impression because once or twice on television, he lost his temper and that created really a false image of him. He’s kind and decent and honourable, and there are a lot of conservatives who will tell you that from their personal experience with him, including supporting them when they were under fire from other people on the Left.

Also, it’s interesting. Here’s something most people don’t know about Cornel. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a conservative in academia who knows the conservative tradition as well as he does. Ask him anything about Edmund Burke, he’s probably read more Leo Strauss than I have. I’m sure he has, actually.

You want to make sure you run into Cornel, one place you’ll always find him is at the Annual Voegelin meeting. The Eric Voegelin meeting at the American Political Science Association. He’s fascinated, intrigued with Voegelin’s work, and he’s learned a lot from it. As I say, he knows the conservative tradition better than most conservatives do and appreciates it, admires it.

SEAN SPEER: Well, I said at the outset that I admired you for your institution-building and intellectual leadership. This conversation has been such a powerful demonstration of that. Robert P. George from Princeton University, thank you for joining us at Hub Dialogues.

ROBERT P. GEORGE: My very great pleasure. Thanks for having me on, Sean.