Marjorie Jeffrey, Publius Fellow 2017
What is your current position?
I am a PhD Candidate in Political Theory at Baylor University, and defending my dissertation this summer. I’ll be starting at Clemson University in the fall as the Associate Director of the Lyceum Scholars Program, within the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism. I’ll also be serving as Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science.
What inspired you to choose this career path?
My parents, first and foremost, both political scientists, who instilled in me a desire for truth and wisdom at a very young age. And when I got older, certain books I read while coming of age right before college made me decide to follow a vocation in academia: Plato’s Republic, Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind, Walker Percy’s The Second Coming, and Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons. What tied these seemingly disparate books together for me was an overwhelming pessimism about the condition of our souls in the modern age. I decided that teaching was the best way for me to try to do something about that soul-sickness.
What are you currently working on?
My dissertation, entitled “The Wars of Peoples: Science, Democracy, and International Politics in the Thought of Winston Churchill.” My focus is on Churchill the thinker, rather than Churchill the statesman (although the two are inextricably linked, and I don’t try to artificially separate them), and primarily on his thoughts on war and international relations in the age of democracy.
How did you hear about the Claremont Institute?
I grew up in the kind of household where a copy of the Claremont Review of Books was always lying around. My parents met at a Claremont Institute-sponsored panel at the American Political Science Association, so it may not be too far afield to credit Claremont to some degree with my very being. I am told that I attended my first Claremont-sponsored event at the age of three months, although my memory fails me on this front.
What is your fondest memory of the Claremont Institute?
The 4th of July was just a great day of celebration altogether, but even better than the trip to the shooting range was when we all took turns reading aloud passages from founding documents and great American speeches. It was definitely a sentimental moment for me.
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?
Certainly the emphasis placed upon the importance of the Founding and its principles, insistence on a deep understanding of those principles, and the carrying of those principles into contemporary political discourse; all of these hallmarks make Claremont both unique and indispensable.
I think the Publius Fellowship stands out among the Claremont Fellowships because it is dedicated to a distinctly Western tradition, one which perhaps reached its peak in the early American regime—that of private citizens partaking in public discourse through rhetoric. I do not mean rhetoric in any negative sense, but rather in the highest Aristotelian sense: that which has the power to persuade rather than to force, possessing some connection to the truth. Rhetoric in its highest form is the use of logos to persuade fellow citizens of the actually true or false, the good or the bad, the beautiful or the ugly. The Publius Fellowship is the only program of which I am aware that attempts to explicitly pass on this tradition of engaged public citizenship—the fullest kind of citizenship—through rhetoric, following in the path of its namesake(s), the American Publius.
If you could have a drink with an American Founder, or any great thinker, who would it be, why, and what would you order?
This is an extraordinarily difficult question. I think especially in living a life of the mind, you come to regard the authors of some books as friends, albeit friends you’ve never gotten to meet. I hate to be so obvious, but I suppose to be true to the current main occupant of my mind, I’d have to say Winston Churchill, and for the drink, a bottle of Pol Roger.
Who was more important for their time, George Washington or Abraham Lincoln? Why?
Lincoln would say Washington. Who am I to question Lincoln?
In all seriousness, Washington was the indispensable man, without whom there would never have been a United States of America. Thus, there could be no Lincoln without Washington.
In which one of the original thirteen colonies, looking back on history, would you have wanted to live and why?
Well, I’m from South Carolina, so my mind naturally turns to what is near. I think Charleston (or “Charles Town” as it was called) would have been a pleasant city to live in during the colonial era, especially as it was one of the earliest seats of arts and high culture in the colonies. Charleston would also have been one of the easiest places in the colonies to be a Catholic, with the other obvious choice being Maryland.
What is the greatest challenge facing the United States today?
In some ways the greatest challenge facing us is the same challenge facing Europe and Japan, that is, the spiritual crisis of late-stage liberalism. However, the greatest political challenge specific to the United States is undoubtedly the consequences of the demographic revolution that has been taking place in our country since 1965. Dealing with the fallout from that revolution will likely shape American politics for the next century.
What books are you reading right now?
I’ve been going back and forth between reading books for the class I’m teaching, and reading for my dissertation work, so right now it’s Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and Churchill’s Marlborough.
What is your favorite hobby or cultural/recreational pastime and why?
As a fan of the films of Whit Stillman, I’d love to be able to say “dancing,” but I’m not at all an accomplished dancer. However, I have always had an interest in theater and music, and for awhile wanted to pursue a theater career. These days, the best way that I have of keeping up my artistic pursuits is by singing sacred music—both plainchant and polyphony—in my parish choir.
What is the most distinctive attribute/character of the people in the state where you grew up that you genuinely admire?