Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Berry conference wrap-up

I promised to offer some summary comments on this conference, held yesterday on the campus of Berry College. It was the eighth edition of conferences that colleagues from Berry and Oglethorpe have organized over the years. As usual, the folks at Berry did an excellent job hosting the event, treating us guests well, feeding us well, and watering us well at T. Martooni’s, a new ornament on Rome’s quaint Broad Street downtown. Now that I’ve mentioned the important stuff, let me say a few words about what transpired.

The student panel (four from Berry, one from Oglethorpe) was as good a version of an undergraduate panel as I’ve seen. The students were all thoughtful and well-spoken. All are destined for greatness, some in law school, others in grad school or seminary.

John Seery eloquently summarized the challenges faced by residential liberal arts colleges and proved that his poetry inspires red state non-denominational evangelicals as much as it does the SoCal sophisticates of Pomona College. While I suspect that this has a lot to do with his gifts as a lecturer, I can’t overlook that fact that he was willing but (fortunately for the competition) unable to enter into a faculty cow-milking contest.

The Catholics sent to track down Naomi Schaefer Riley found her and by and large liked what they found--a journalist willing to try hard to enter into the lives of young people very different from herself.

The auditorium was overflowing for the "debate" between William Galston and Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr.. Both were in excellent form, Mansfield provocative, pungent, and funny, Galston impressively systematic and pellucid. Galston is an excellent and persuasive apologist for a liberalism to which (IMHO) he alone among Democrats adheres. Mansfield made no attempt to paper over the tensions within the "conservative movement," but reminded us why, with all its problems, conservatism is preferable to liberalism as it is actually practiced.

If and when a report appears in the Berry College student newspaper, I’ll link to it. And those who have access to the April issue of The American Spectator should read Peter Lawler’s beautiful celebration of liberal education as practiced at his (non-denominational Christian) institution (not yet available on-line). Among the virtues of Berry students are the negative one of not throwing pies, as well as the positive ones of respectfully asking hard questions and genuinely appreciating intellectual stimulation. (Lest I neglect my own institution, similar virtues were on display today when John Seery walked us through Christine de Pizan’s The Book of the City of Ladies.)

Update: Here’s a thoughtful commentary by a smart Berry student.

Discussions - 1 Comment

Joe, Spot on with your report and comments. As you know (if you read my fuller remarks), I characterized Naomi Schaefer Riley as "a conscientious, if youthful, journalist, informed by social science (happily, by James Davison Hunter rather than Alan Wolfe)." I’d characterize you as a "dry-witted perceptive blogger, informed by political philosophy and genuine faith." John Seery - a gem of a teacher, a prince of a guy - really should be invited to everyone’s campus to preach, charm, and inspire.
The one omission from your report: Peter Lawler was, as always, a most genial host. His inadvertently calling Harvey Mansfield "President [Mansfield]" instead of "Professor Mansfield" elicited one of the biggest laughs of the evening; and his catching and redeeming himself by saying "I’m only looking forward" [to Harvey’s political future?] displayed his usual dexterity and aplomb.
One last comment: you’re exactly right about the singularity of Galston’s concept of "liberalism." I’d say he represented himself or his views well, but next to nothing more.

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