George Speaks on “Conservatism’s Past, Present, and Future”

Michael Zhang ’21 & Ashley Lee ‘21/The Lawrence
McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University Robert George held a seminar entitled “Conservatism’s Past, Present, and Future” in the Heely Room on April 23. George is the director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions and a visiting professor at Harvard Law School. George is recognized as one of the leading conservative intellectuals in the United States. The seminar was organized by Anton Kandalin ’19 and Ethan Johnson ’19, the president and a member of the Leadership in Ethics and Policy (LEAP) Club, respectively.
The talk was divided into two sections, the first being a question and answer session moderated by Kandalin and Johnson, and the second a question and answer session open to all students.
To begin the conversation, George defined “conservatism.” He n noted that the denotation of the word depends heavily on time and region. He compared conservatism in Europe and the U.S., saying, “European conservatism reflects European history. [It] is often very critical of democracy and liberal politics.” In contrast, on American conservatism, George said, “Its modern manifestation [is] certainly Republican […] Madisonian, [and] Lincolnian. [American conservatives] want to preserve the principles of the American government.”
George went on to express his opinion on President Trump and his conservative values, claiming, “Trump doesn’t fit into the category of conservatism or liberalism.” Instead, he labeled Trump as a “transactional’ president who is willing to modify his viewpoints to achieve his goals.
Finally, George tackled a sensitive topic: the difference between free speech and hate speech. He said, “Hate speech is a real issue […] we should not pretend that it doesn’t exist.”
He emphasized, however, that “if there are reasons, arguments, or evidence, [free speech] must be allowed,” George said. “On the flip side, he said, modern-day conservatives tend to refute liberal views without fully considering these views, and vice versa. To emphasize his point, George mentioned his Princeton colleague, bioethics professor Peter Singer. On his conversations with Singer, George stated that, “I learned more from thinking through challenges [Singer] posed than I ever have in conversations with people who agree with me.”
Following the moderated question and answer segment, the seminar transitioned into an open question and answer session with the audience.
Attendees of George’s talk walked out of the room with mixed opinions. After the seminar Natalie Drill ’20 reflected, “It was surprising how much he didn’t talk about his personal views but more on the future development of America and his [predictions] for the upcoming election.
According to Nico Torres ’22, the seminar showed him to “see the other side of the political [spectrum], [which] brought in thoughts that are important to learning.
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