David Deavel, Lincoln Fellow 2019
Editor, Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture;
Visiting Assistant Professor of Catholic Studies, The University of St. Thomas.
What is your current position? Editor of Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture and visiting assistant professor of Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas.
What inspired you to choose this career path? I was always interested in the life of the mind and knew I wanted to write and possibly teach. The opportunity to work in an interdisciplinary department where I can write and teach about the most important topics in theology, philosophy, politics, literature, and education from a Catholic perspective but taking into account the best of classical and modern wisdom, has been a great gift.
What are you currently working on? I have several academic papers in progress on the thought of the newest Catholic saint, John Henry Newman, about whom I wrote a dissertation. One of them is on how his ideal of a university can be made present in the modern world and the other is on how Newman approached the question of political economy and wealth in light of theology and the other disciplines—he favored liberal institutions but thought liberalism as a philosophy was incomplete and ultimately personally and politically unstable. The other major essay I’m working on has to do with the Catholic relationship to the American experiment—are Catholic required, as some modern political thinkers have reasserted, to follow the ideal of an “integral Catholic state”?
How did you hear about the Claremont Institute? I believe I heard about it originally through National Review. I then started subscribing to Claremont Review of Books and was enthralled with the kinds of discussions in the magazine and at the Institute.
What is your fondest memory of the Claremont Institute? Sitting in Lincoln Fellowship sessions listening to the wisdom of people like Charles Kesler and Michael Uhlmann with other seasoned Claremont scholars avidly listening with us. I particularly have a memory of Angelo Codevilla sitting and holding his wife’s hand as they both listened. “These,” I thought, “are good people to be thinking about statesmanship and a republic.”
There are all sorts of educational programs out there for current and rising conservative professionals. What do you think makes the Claremont Institute’s Fellowships unique? That access to the great minds and good people over an extended period of time is, I think, unusual if not unique. But I think the depth of the program’s readings and sessions, which take in philosophical, theological, and historical questions that are in the background of the nuts-and-bolts questions that must be answered is really unique. I was one of the fellows with the most scholarly background, so I really appreciated the discussion of applying thought—but many of the others, who are in the midst of the policy and government world, found themselves very happy to step back and think about the whole picture.
What would the artifact be, if you could hold one piece of history from the early founding of our country? Why?
I think it would be most exciting to be holding a brand-spanking new newspaper with one of the original Federalists in it. To feel a part of that debate as it happened.
In which one of the original 13 colonies, looking back on history, would you have wanted to live? Why? Probably Pennsylvania. I spent some time in Philadelphia two years ago at a conference on church-state relations and had a chance to tour the historical landmarks and see a lot of the scenes of public and private life that were so important in our history. The romance of the Founding really comes back when you’re standing there in Carpenters’ Hall and imagining the First Continental Congress or standing in the place where Franklin lived.
Who was more important for their time, George Washington or Abraham Lincoln? Why? I’d like to punt in academic fashion, but I will have to go with Lincoln. While the Founding had many Fathers of intense interest, I’ve always seen Lincoln standing head and shoulders above his own team of rivals and those involved in this greatest challenge to the Union. Lincoln had to figure out practically how much he could act in the Constitutional framework without breaking it. And he did it all with both great gravity but also great humor in the midst of personal and public tragedy. There’s a reason he’s so fascinating that, as one old joke goes, you could sell a book titled Lincoln’s Best Friend’s Dog.
What do you believe is the greatest challenge facing the United States today?
I think we have reached a point where Americans have become unconvinced about what it means to be human, such that the ideal of being “created equal” has come to take on distorted meanings—or no meaning at all. This, it seems to me, is at the root of so much of the rejection of what still stands firm in our Constitutional order. To combat it is a social and educational question that is difficult to answer.
What do you see as the biggest challenge in attempting to reach and convince a large percentage of millennials the nation’s founding principles are still relevant and must be preserved? I think the educational question is so important here. Though I had, in small-town Indiana, an education that at least covered basic American history and traditional questions of civics—Mr. Cox made every eighth-grader memorize the preamble to the Constitution!—I don’t think millennials and gen-z (or zillenials) had that at all. If they’ve been taught anything at all, it’s that the Founders had slaves and Jefferson slept with his. That lack of historical perspective and basic knowledge, combined with the fact that what they have is only focused on the bad, and a lack of any religious perspective, makes it imperative that we get the facts out about what the founders faced, what they believed, and what they thought—in order that they can then see the tremendous good in those founding principles.
What do you see as the biggest threat to Religious Liberty? The redefinitions of the human that include somewhat confused ideas about gender and race, which both divide us but also distort the image of God and man.
What do you think has been the major contributor to the demise of our country’s lack of political civility?
I think the breaking down of the post-war consensus has a lot to do with it, but the technological factor of encountering people’s thoughts in the venue of social media, which is distorting in so many ways, plays into this.
What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing students?
I think the lack of a broad base of knowledge and the disjointed nature of the knowledge they have is really difficult. I think this mostly is rooted in the disjointed, screen-based culture that they have largely been born into. It’s a problem prevalent since the advent of the printing press, but it’s gone into hyperdrive now.
What books are you currently reading? Fr. Arseny, 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, and Spiritual Father, about a priest who kept his faith and his sanity in the Gulag. The Federalist, since I was so taken with the selections we did in the Fellowship. Richard Dougherty’s edited collection, Augustine’s Political Thought. And Paul Shrimpton’s The Making of Men: The Idea and Reality of Newman’s University.
What is the most distinctive attribute/character of the people in the state where you grew up that you genuinely admire?
It may sound odd, but the fact that people in Indiana generally drive slow and stay to the right (or did when I grew up) was always a sign of the stability of character and purpose that I admire in Hoosiers.
What is your favorite cultural/recreational pastime (or hobby)? Why? I still love to play sports—softball, basketball, ultimate Frisbee, whatever you’re doing. I need the exercise and I love that it brings out the thumos or spirited part in me. It’s a character trait that people who love God and country need to have, and it’s good to be reminded of it after a clutch three-pointer.