Saturday, December 19, 2009

Robert P. George: Conservative-Christian Big Thinker

I first came across the commentary of Robert P. George during last year's campaign (see, "Obama and His Pro-Life Apologists").

I immediately realized that George was the most important current writers on moral values in the country. I haven't read too much of George since, but it turns out that the New York Times has a big article on him at the magazine, "
The Conservative-Christian Big Thinker":
On a September afternoon, about 60 prominent Christians assembled in the library of the Metropolitan Club on the east side of Central Park. It was a gathering of unusual diversity and power. Many in attendance were conservative evangelicals like the born-again Watergate felon Chuck Colson, who helped initiate the meeting. Metropolitan Jonah, the primate of the Orthodox Church in America, was there as well. And so were more than half a dozen of this country’s most influential Roman Catholic bishops, including Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, Archbishop John Myers of Newark and Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia.

At the center of the event was Robert P. George, a Princeton University professor of jurisprudence and a Roman Catholic who is this country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker. Dressed in his usual uniform of three-piece suit, New College, Oxford cuff links and rimless glasses­, George convened the meeting with a note of thanks and a reminder of its purpose. Alarmed at the liberal takeover of Washington and an apparent leadership vacuum among the Christian right, the group had come together to warn the country’s secular powers that the culture wars had not ended. As a starting point, George had drafted a 4,700-word manifesto that promised resistance to the point of civil disobedience against any legislation that might implicate their churches or charities in abortion, embryo-destructive research or same-sex marriage.

Two months later, at a Washington press conference to present the group’s “Manhattan Declaration,” George stepped aside to let Cardinal Rigali sum up just what made the statement, and much of George’s work, distinctive. These principles did not belong to the Christian faith alone, the cardinal declared; they rested on a foundation of universal reason. “They are principles that can be known and honored by men and women of good will even apart from divine revelation,” Rigali said. “They are principles of right reason and natural law.”

Even marriage between a man and a woman, Rigali continued, was grounded not just in religion and tradition but in logic. “The true great goods of marriage — the unitive and the procreative goods — are inextricably bound together such that the complementarity of husband and wife is of the very essence of marital communion,” the cardinal continued, ascending into philosophical abstractions surely lost on most in the room. “Sexual relations outside the marital bond are contrary not only to the will of God but to the good of man. Indeed, they are contrary to the will of God precisely because they are against the good of man.”

George looked on with arms crossed and lips sealed. But he was obviously pleased. To anyone who knew George’s work, the cardinal’s words sounded very much as if George had written them, and when I asked him about it later, he acknowledged providing assistance. Rigali’s remarks were a summation of the distinctive moral philosophy that is the foundation of George’s power.
God, I love that!

Lots more at
the link, via Memeorandum.

George is photographed with President George W. Bush,


Mike Casey said...

Absolutely amazing man. I have wondered how long it would take before religious theologians and scholars would return to the "Natural Law" argument against abortion and homosexual marriage.

George is revitalizing the Thomist traditions of Aquinas and emphasis on Aristotelian reason. If he represents the new breed of conservative thinker and academic the anti just got upped in the culture wars.

By the way, great post, Doc!

AmPowerBlog said...

Thanks for commenting, Mike!

LFC said...

Apart from the fact that, being basically pro-choice and anti-discrimination, I disagree with the Rigali/George view, I wonder whether, from their own standpoint, it is wise for those opposed to abortion rights and same-sex marriage to rely on natural law arguments. The notion that their position derives from some putative "universal reason" will be lost on most people, I suspect. And most of those who do understand it will find it unconvincing.

Mike Casey said...


You raise a very good point. Most Americans would have a great deal of trouble understanding the legal and philosophical theories of natural law or natural rights. Especially when being used against abortion or gay marriage.

I think under these circumstances it falls to academics, who truly understand these thoughts, to express these ideas in a layman's way to the populace and how they are relative to these arguments.