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Saturday, June 6, 2015

True Dialogue

Deliberation is about sharing diverse views and reasoning together on the merits of public policy.  At The Philadelphia Inquirer, Professor Robert P. George writes about teaching with his friend and colleague Professor Cornel West.
He is a man of the left. I am on the conservative side of the political spectrum. But we regularly teach together at Princeton. In fact, we have just completed a seminar together that included readings from Sophocles, Plato, St. Augustine, Marx, Mill, Newman, Kierkegaard, Hayek, Solzhenitsyn, John Dewey, C.S. Lewis, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Gabriel Marcel. What happens in our seminars is magical and the impact on our students is amazing.

What you have here is a genuine collaboration. Professor West and I cooperate across the lines of ideological and political difference in the common project of truth-seeking, knowledge-seeking, wisdom-seeking, engaging with each other and our students in a serious, respectful, civil manner, striving to understand each other and learn from each other, treating each other, not as enemies, but as partners in the dialectical process of seeking truth, knowledge, and wisdom.
Whether the reading for the next meeting of our seminar is Machiavelli's Prince, Tocqueville's Democracy in America, DuBois' Souls of Black Folk, Gramsci's Prison Notebooks, or Strauss' Natural Right and History, we can't wait each week to be back in the classroom together. Our approach is the very opposite of antiquarian: We look for the timeless meaning and contemporary significance of the texts we assign. We consider existential, moral, religious, and political questions that are important to us and our students in the context of the writings we examine.

And here is the thing that really matters: The students learn, and they learn how to learn. They learn to approach intellectual and political matters critically - engaging the most compelling points to be adduced in favor of competing ideas and claims. They learn the value and importance of mutual respect and civility. They learn from two guys with some pretty strong opinions, neither of whom is shy about stating them publicly, that the spirit of truth-seeking, like the spirit of liberty, is a spirit open to the possibility that one is in serious error.