Outstanding Impact Award Recipient
Dr. Robert P. George
Dr. Robert P. George holds Princeton’s celebrated McCormick Professorship of Jurisprudence and is Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. In addition, he is frequently a Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School. He has served as Chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the President’s Council on Bioethics. He has also served as the U.S. member of UNESCO’s World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology. He was a Judicial Fellow at the Supreme Court of the United States, where he received the Justice Tom C. Clark Award. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Swarthmore, he holds the degrees of J.D. and M.T.S. from Harvard University and the degrees of D.Phil., B.C.L., D.C.L., and D.Litt. from Oxford University, in addition to twenty-one honorary doctorates. He is a recipient of 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, and the Irving Kristol Award of the American Enterprise Institute. His most recent book is Conscience and Its Enemies: Confronting the Dogmas of Liberal Secularism.
Tell us the vision, objective, or guiding principles of your work.
My vocation – and thus my obligation – as a teacher and scholar is to seek the truth and speak the truth as best I understand it, and to equip and inspire the young men and women entrusted to my charge to do the same. It is my calling and duty to seek the truth and speak the truth in season and out of season; to do it when it is popular and brings affirmation and even accolades, and to do it when it is unpopular and even dangerous. Truth is sacred – quite literally so. Jesus reveals himself to be, “the way, the truth, and the life.” All of us have the obligation to seek truth and speak truth, but this is a special and sacred duty falling upon those of us whom God calls to lives of scholarship and teaching. I have been given a small role, beyond the library and classroom, in public life. There it has been my mission to uphold and defend a central truth – a truth that is at the foundation of our civic life, grounded as it is in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. It is this: Each and every member of the human family, as a creature fashioned in the very image and likeness of the divine Creator and Ruler of the universe, is the bearer of profound, inherent, and equal dignity. In every aspect of our lives – in our private dealings with one another and in our public life – we must be mindful of that great truth and honor it.
What advice would you offer to those who are looking for more courage in the public square right now?
I have frequently said that courage is the virtue we are most missing and most desperately in need of today. In fact, acts of courage are so rare these days that we are sometimes startled when we see them, as we did, for example, in 2016 when Jordan Peterson boldly stood up against the compulsion of speech in the Canadian government’s Bill C-16. What advice do I give to those looking for more of it in public life? First, exemplify courage yourself! Don’t wait around for others to do it. Speak the truth, even when it’s unpopular, even when bearing faithful witness puts one at risk of being smeared, vilified, or “cancelled.” It doesn’t matter whether you are a public figure. Your example, for good or ill, influences others – your children and other family members, friends, co-workers, people in your church, and people in your community. Second, demand courage of those who seek your good opinion or support – whether that person is a politician, a pastor, a teacher, a commentator, or, heaven help us, a “public intellectual.” Third, reward courage when you see it. Rush to support those who exhibit courage, especially when they come under attack. And punish cowardice. If someone who seeks your vote, and who perhaps got it in the last election, fails in courage when put to the test, do your part to make sure that his or her cowardice is not “cost-free.” If you exemplify courage yourself, if you demand courage of others, if you stand in solidarity with and support those who exhibit courage, you will, quite literally, encourage others – you will help to put courage in them.
What do you do for fun?
I grew up in the hills of West Virginia, the eldest of five rambunctious boys. We hunted, fished, and played bluegrass music together. In the summers, we rarely wore shoes or shirts except to go to church. I still love to fish, but the demands on my time make fishing trips a rare pleasure. What I can do, though, and what I do as often as I can, is play music. I love doing it. I love sitting at home playing banjo or guitar on my own; I also love playing informally – jamming – with various friends and groups of friends; and I love performing. In the past three or four years, I’ve done more performing than I had done for the previous couple of decades, and I’ve enjoyed it immensely. Today I’m a better musician – especially on five-string banjo – than I’ve ever been, having sharpened up under the pressure of performance obligations. Music is a blessing – and a constant – in my life. I don’t know how much time I will be allotted on this planet, but for as long as I’m here, my prayer is for limber fingers.