Ugonna Eze, Publius Fellow 2018
What is your current position?
I am currently a second-year law student at the University of Chicago.
What inspired you to choose this career path?
I love the work that lawyers do—representing clients and constantly crafting arguments about how society can better operate. I wanted to make my own humble contribution to this storied tradition.
What are you currently working on?
As a good friend of mine always puts it, I’m just trying to graduate.
How did you hear about the Claremont Institute?
Dr. Kesler told me about the program just before a panel on the future of conservatism at the National Constitution Center. From that conversation alone, I knew it would be an incredible experience.
What is your fondest memory of the Claremont Institute?
Watching the fireworks with my classmates on the Fourth of July—it’s a memory I will keep with me for the rest of my life.
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?
The Claremont Institute’s unique focus on the American Founding and Lincoln—as understood by Leo Strauss and Harry Jaffa—makes it an excellent place to learn how to approach the many issues facing the country today. I recommend it to anyone interested in understanding an important wing of conservative political thought.
If you could have a fireside chat and drink with an American Founder, or any great thinker, who would it be, why, and what would you order and discuss?
John Adams—his “Defense of the Constitution” and “Notes on Davila” were some of the most cogent arguments for republican government of his time. He was also an instrumental figure throughout the American Founding: he helped draft the Declaration of Independence, nominated George Washington to lead the Continental Army, and served as the country’s first Vice-President. I imagine he would have important insights on how to deal with the problems facing the country today.
Who was more important for their time, George Washington or Abraham Lincoln? Why?
George Washington. While Lincoln deserves highest praise for saving the Union, Washington was more important in his time for forming it. He unified the Continental Army against British imperial rule, shepherded our young country through the Constitutional Convention, and squashed the Newburgh Conspiracy and the Whiskey Rebellion. And when the country was clamoring for him to serve third and possibly fourth terms, he delivered the Farewell Address and established the most important tradition in our republic. Lincoln would agree.
In which one of the original 13 colonies, looking back on history, would you have wanted to live and why?
I would have lived in New York. New York was the center of commerce and trade and played an important role in the eventual abolition of slavery.
What would the artifact be, if you could hold one piece of history from the early founding of our country and why?
I would hold the coat that Crispus Attucks wore when he was shot during the Boston Massacre. As the first person killed during the Boston Massacre, one could argue that his death marked the beginning of the American Revolutionary War—if not the beginning of the country itself. And yet, Attucks’ death as a freed slave also shows that the destiny of Americans of all races has been inextricably intertwined from the very beginning.
What qualities do you think are needed to make an impressive statesman in this century and why?
The biggest problems for the 21st Century will come from the choice we make with emergent technology: do we indulge ourselves in every new pleasure that technology affords us or do we exercise restraint? The next statesman will have to articulate the case for restraint and how it relates to automation, genetic engineering, deaths of despair, and the breakdown of the American family. To be effective on this front, the statesman must himself be restrained.
What is the greatest challenge facing the United States today?
The central challenge for our democracy is balancing our liberty with the order and traditions that make that liberty worth exercising in the first place. That it is possible for a citizenry to corrupt itself is something the Founding Fathers understood but which we seem to have forgotten. Today’s democratic spirit (as opposed to the republican spirit that produced the Constitution) treats citizens’ desires and actions as morally neutral ends, enforcing a strict boundary between the proper scope of civil authority and individual action. This ethos demands that society respect an individual’s right to lead a corrupted life, even if the sum total of corrupted actions leads to their community’s—and even democracy’s—death.
What would the argument be if you were to give a speech to a large percentage of left-leaning millennials in order to convince them the nation’s founding principles are still relevant and worthy of being preserved?
A left-leaning progressive who believes that the nation’s founding principles are irrelevant is unlikely to be persuaded through argument. Their ideology is too self-contained, economic and social forces already place too powerful an incentive on subverting the Founding, and the language of constitutionalism has little purchase in a political environment defined by cycles of partisanship and domination. I would focus a speech to that group on the areas where the interests of progressivism and conservatism overlap. For example, both progressives and conservatives have a strong interest in federalism, the best political model for a pluralistic and diverse society.
What books are you currently reading?
I am reading Xenophon’s Education of Cyrus, Hume’s History of England, and John Adams’ Defense of the Constitutions. Both Hume and Xenophon illustrate how political dynamics are shaped by human ambition. Adams’s Defense allows us to understand our own constitution by comparing it to the constitutions of past republics.
What book, film, or speech has left a lasting impression with you and why?
Pope Pius XI’s “Quadragesimo Anno” is a sober rejection of both socialism and crony capitalism. It rejects a culture of indulgence and excess, urging instead a “third way.” Even if one disagrees with its prescriptions, it is useful and instructive for understanding the social ills we observe today.
Do you have a favorite quote and if so would you share?
“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.” – Psalm 117:9
What is the most distinctive attribute/character of the people in the state where you grew up that you genuinely admire?
New Yorkers are infamously direct and brusque.
What is your favorite cultural/recreational pastime (or hobby) and why?
I try to make beats on Logic Pro X whenever I have spare time. Of course, there is an exactly 0% chance that the beats are good or will ever be worth listening to. So, when I am not doing that, I try to grit through another terrible Knicks season.