What is your current position?
I’m Director of the Matthew J. Ryan Center and Associate Teaching Professor in the Augustine and Culture Seminar Program at Villanova University.
What inspired you to choose this career path?
I’ve always been interested in philosophy and politics, but I decided to go to graduate school after taking a political theory course on the totalitarian crisis of the twentieth century. That course introduced me to a level of reflection on the nature of modernity I had not previously experienced and revealed to me the importance of philosophical and spiritual questions for political life. In doing so, it inspired me to devote my life to studying such questions.
What are you currently working on?
In addition to running the Ryan Center and teaching, I have a few research projects underway, mostly dealing with questions related to liberal education. I also work on the thought of Kant, Schelling, and Eric Voegelin.
How did you hear about the Claremont Institute?
Honestly, I can’t remember. I’ve known about it for years.
What is your fondest memory of the Claremont Institute?
Do you want the exoteric or esoteric answer? There were a lot of great moments. I especially enjoyed the sessions with John Marini.
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?
First, Claremont’s fellowships are grounded in serious study of political philosophy and primary texts in the history of American political thought. Second, Claremont represents a distinct and influential reading of the American political tradition. Claremont’s fellowships offer a rare opportunity to think about contemporary politics in a way that is informed by these intellectual traditions.
Who was more important for their time, George Washington or Abraham Lincoln? Why?
That’s a tough one, but I’d have to say George Washington. While the challenge Lincoln faced was immense, he was nevertheless able to appeal to the founding for which Washington and the other founders were responsible. Washington’s role in the War of Independence, the Constitutional Convention, and as the first president of our country was obviously instrumental to that founding.
In which one of the original 13 colonies, looking back on history, would you have wanted to live and why?
As a Catholic, I’ll say Maryland.
Who would it be, if you could have a conversation with any great thinker and what would you discuss?
Aristotle. Does the soul survive after death?
What qualities do you believe will make outstanding statesmen/women in this century?
The same as always: wisdom and virtue.
What do you believe is the greatest challenge facing the United States today?
Increasing divisions among the American people. America seems to be caught in a cultural, political, and economic centrifuge. At the same time, many Americans are taught to be ashamed of Western civilization and the American founding even though those traditions contain the intellectual and political resources that can help us through this difficult time.
What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing educators in today’s academic environment?
Do I have to pick just one? I’ll say the replacement of liberal and civic education with vocational and ideological education – something for which educators themselves are partly responsible.
What do you believe has led to our established culture redefining itself in the 21st Century?
That’s not a question I can answer in a short space. It would require first of all discussing what counts as our established culture. That said, maintaining a self-governing constitutional republic depends on educating citizens for such a task, and I think it’s clear that many Americans have not received a civic education adequate to it.
Do you believe that a course in ethics and integrity should be taught in every academic institution? Why?
Yes, but that’s not specific enough. I believe, for example, that a course on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (and Politics) should be taught at every institution.
What regimen do you follow when writing something that requires a great deal of research and thought?
I usually read and write at the same time, alternating between the two as I progress in my research. I prefer to clear my schedule and work all day on a project if I can. If I only have a few hours to devote to writing on a given day, I try to do it early when my mind is clear and there are fewer distractions.
What books are you currently reading?
I just finished re-reading Plato’s Republic and will soon turn again to the some of the essays in Kant: Political Writings. At night, I’ve been reading Andrew Pessin’s Nevergreen, which is a satire of contemporary campus life and cancel culture. I plan to read John Le Carré’s Silverview next.
Do you have a favorite quote, if so why does it resonate with you?
“It is noble to strive after noble ends, no matter the outcome,” which is a loose translation of a line from Plato’s Phaedrus. I like it because it refutes “outcomes-based assessment” in a sentence, but, in general, it’s a good reminder that some things are worth doing for their own sake, and that it’s those sorts of things that make life worth living.
What book, film, or speech has left a lasting impression with you? Why?
Eric Voegelin’s The New Science of Politics. It was transformative when I read it as an undergraduate, and my understanding of politics is still informed by it today.
What is the most distinctive attribute/character of the people in the state (country) where you grew up that you genuinely admire?
I grew up in Canada. It’s cliché, but there really are a lot of nice Canadians.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I’m guessing I’ll still be studying political philosophy and promoting liberal and civic education.
What is your favorite cultural/recreational pastime (or hobby) and why?
Playing ice hockey. As I said, I grew up in Canada. More seriously, I do it because I love it.