Robert P. George holds Princeton’s celebrated McCormick Chair in Jurisprudence and is the founding director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. Previously, Robert P. George served as chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), and before that on the President’s Council on Bioethics and as a presidential appointee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights. He also served as the U.S. member of UNESCO’s World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST). Robert P. George is a former Judicial Fellow at the Supreme Court of the United States, where he received the Justice Tom C. Clark Award. Robert has authored numerous books, with his most recent book Conscience and Its Enemies: Confronting the Dogmas of Liberal Secularism, recieving a range of positive reviews. His scholarly articles and reviews have appeared in such journals as the Harvard Law Review, the Yale Law Journal, the Columbia Law Review, the American Journal of Jurisprudence, and the Review of Politics. Robert P. George is a recipient of many honors and awards, including the Presidential Citizens Medal, the Honorific Medal for the Defense of Human Rights of the Republic of Poland, and many, many more.. He has given honorific lectures at Harvard, Yale, University of St. Andrews, and Cornell University. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and holds honorary doctorates of law, ethics, science, letters, divinity, humanities, law and moral values, civil law, humane letters, and juridical science. A graduate of Swarthmore College, he holds J.D. and M.T.S. degrees from Harvard University and the degree of D.Phil. from Oxford University. It’s an honour to interview such a well respected individual as Robert P. George…
I am a teacher.
What are you reading at the moment?
I am currently reading On Human Nature by Roger Scruton.
When you think about your childhood, what book comes to mind?
The book that comes to mind is The Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to be a lawyer.
When did you fall in love with philosophy?
As a sophomore in college at Swarthmore, when I read Gorgias by Plato.
What do you think your school aged self would think of the present day you?
Why on earth would someone want to be a teacher?
If you could wrap up a single book and gift it to yourself as you left education – which book would it be?
I’d gift myself Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle.
No. I read when I can—on planes and trains, at bedtime, when I get some quiet time.
Which book has had the biggest impact on your career so far? How did it impact it?
Gorgias by Plato set me on my vocational path.
What advice would you give a novice, looking for an introduction to philosophy?
Read Plato’s dialogues—the shorter ones first.
Who would you say are the three philosophers that continue to inspire you?
Elizabeth Anscombe, H.L.A. Hart, John Finnis
Do you have any books that you strongly associate with someone important in your life?
Natural Law and Natural Rights by John Finnis. John was my doctoral thesis supervisor in Oxford.
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
Recently, it has been Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance.
Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?
I love both.
Do you think reading is important?
Important? No, not merely important—essential.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last 6 months?
Again, I’d say Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance.
Do you prefer real books or digital books?
What are digital books?
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance will give those readers who know nothing of the lives of their white poor and working class fellow citizens a window into their lives. In my experience, academic people in particular have little knowledge of the lives of their white poor and working class fellow citizens. They don’t understand their circumstances, struggles, problems, concerns, beliefs, or values. That helps to explain why academics—including political scientists—were shocked by the election of Donald Trump as President.
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life? What impact did it have?
Gorgias by Plato opened my mind to the intrinsic value of knowledge and the importance of pursuing truth for truth’s sake.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
It’s the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. I’d like to learn more about its causes, circumstances, and consequences. I also want to learn more about Luther.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
Heretic in the Academic Temple.