On Friday, October 8, St. Mark’s welcomed back two world-renowned intellectuals for a lesson in civil discourse. Professors Cornel West and Robert George spent several hours on campus, meeting with students and presenting a special Upper School Assembly on “Truth-Seeking, Democracy, and Freedom of Thought and Expression."
West and George are famously opposite on the political spectrum but consider each other close friends and respected colleagues. In their talk, the duo discussed the importance of respecting others and learning to listen.
“Republican government requires that citizens see each other as citizens when they disagree, not just when they agree,” said Professor George. “Let's get back to fundamentals here: virtues like openness of mind, willingness to acknowledge one's own fallibility, and the recognition that one could be wrong, even about deep, important things. For a republic to flourish, you need those.”
This was the third visit to St. Mark’s for Professors West and George. Before presenting at Assembly, they visited Lower School classrooms and ate lunch with members of the Senior Class.
“Each time I come here to St. Mark’s, I feel a certain kind of spirit,” said Professor West. “This is a place where people are serious about caring for each other. You’re not coming in here to get skills to end up being ‘smart.’ You want to be wise, even as young lads. You’re on your Path to Manhood.”
Robert George serves as the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. Cornel West is the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Professor of Philosophy & Christian Practice at Columbia University's Union Theological Seminary. He has also held professorships and fellowships at institutions including Harvard University, Yale University, and Dartmouth College.
Prior to Professors West and George’s visit, The ReMarker spoke with Upper School teachers about the importance of civil discourse.
“Our democracy can’t really exist without a marketplace of ideas, which means you have to tolerate at least listening to views with which you do not agree,” said Bruce Westrate, Nancy and Jeffrey Marcus Master Teaching Chair. “Robert George and Cornel West model the way it’s supposed to work.”
“I think both of these men demonstrate intellectual humility that we don’t see a lot of in the world,” said GayMarie Vaughn, Upper School English teacher. “We’re always trying to prove our point and cancel the other side, if you will, and they don’t practice that. They don’t embody that whole ideology, and I have a lot of respect for that.”
A recording of the full Assembly is available below.