September 6, 2022
Ralph Ellison wrote one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century, Invisible Man. He was also a gifted essayist and in this episode we discuss two essays in particular: “The Little Man at Chehaw Station” and “What America Would be Like Without Blacks.” The former was first published in The American Scholar in the Winter 1977/78 issue. In my view it’s one of the finest meditations on American identity ever written. That latter first appeared in Time magazine in April of 1970. They both appeared in a collection called Going to the Territory in 1986 and can also be found in The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison published by Modern Library.
We discuss the problem of aesthetic communication in American democracy, why the American condition is a “state of unease,” and the centrality of writing and our founding documents to American identity. Ellison loved both the traditional and the vernacular and was deeply attuned to how the interaction of these elements produced a complex cultural pluralism. Although written over 40 years ago, these essays seem quite timely. Consider this (from the “Little Man” essay): “In many ways, then, the call for a new social order based upon the glorification of ancestral blood and ethnic background acts as a call to cultural and aesthetic chaos. Yet while this latest farcical phase in the drama of American social hierarchy unfolds, the irrepressible movement of American culture toward the integration of its diverse elements continues, confounding the circumlocutions of its staunchest opponents.”
Our guests are Marc C. Conner and Lucas Morel.
Marc Conner is President of Skidmore College (and Professor of English). Prior to coming to Skidmore in summer 2020, Marc was Provost and the Ballengee Professor of English at Washington and Lee University. His primary area of scholarship and teaching is literary modernism, both narrative and poetry, including Irish modernism, the modern American novel and African-American literature. He has authored and edited eight books, primarily about the work of Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, Charles Johnson, and James Joyce, including The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison, named one of the 100 notable books of the year by The New York Times.
Lucas Morel is the John K. Boardman, Jr. Professor of Politics and Head of the Politics Department at Washington and Lee University. He is the author of Lincoln and the American Founding and Lincoln’s Sacred Effort: Defining Religion’s Role in American Self-Government. He’s also edited two books on Ralph Ellison: Ralph Ellison and the Raft of Hope: A Political Companion to “Invisible Man” and more recently, The New Territory: Ralph Ellison and the Twenty-First Century (which he co-edited with Marc Conner). Dr. Morel conducts high school teacher workshops for the Ashbrook Center, Jack Miller Center, Gilder-Lehrman Institute, Bill of Rights Institute, and Liberty Fund.
May 13, 2022
This episode concludes our series on liberal education. We have three of our previous guests in the series back to discuss some common themes in the work of Leo Strauss, Michael Oakeshott and Hannah Arendt. We have Michael and Catherine Zuckert, Rita Koganzon, and Elizabeth Corey all returning to the podcast for the discussion. Topics include the place of reverence and tradition in liberal education, the authority of the teacher, and the purpose or purposes of liberal education. See our previous episodes for the bios of these guests.
April 7, 2022
In this episode we discuss a short essay by the philosopher Henry Bugbee, “Education and the Style of our Lives.” Bugbee taught for a number of years at the University of Montana. This short, beautiful and thought-provoking essay was occasioned by a report that a commission presented to the Montana legislature. In just over nine pages, Bugbee lays out the core of education as seen from the standpoint of both teacher and student. He seeks the revitalization of a dialogue that brings text and world together—experience is illuminated and meaning is discovered. The piece was published in Profiles, the magazine of the University of Montana in May of 1974.
Our guest is Joseph M. Keegin. Joseph talks about Bugbee’s insistence that both teacher and student must be capable of self-risk. We discuss Bugbee’s reflections on the relationship between liberal learning and experience and how Bugbee’s appeal to experience is quite different from the way people appeal to “lived experience” today. We end by thinking about Bugbee’s appeal to the duty to bring the past to bear on the present. Joseph makes a plea for people to find a copy of Bugbee’s only published book, The Inward Morning, which is a “philosophical exercise conducted through fifteen months of journal entries.”
You can find Joseph’s essay on Bugbee here and his blog is www.fxxfy.net. Joseph is an editor at Athwart and The Point, and a PhD student in philosophy at Tulane University. He has also written articles for Plough, First Things, Tablet, and The New Atlantis.
March 10, 2022
This month we are pleased to bring you a special episode that departs from our normal path. For the past several months, we’ve been looking at forgotten or neglected books and essays on liberal education. We’re very excited to bring you this conversation with three authors who’ve all written recently published books on liberal education.
We have Zena Hitz, author of LOST IN THOUGHT: THE HIDDEN PLEASURES OF AN INTELLECTUAL LIFE;
Jonathan Marks, author of LET’S BE REASONABLE: A CONSERVATIVE CASE FOR LIBERAL EDUCATION;
and Roosevelt Montás, author of RESCUING SOCRATES: HOW THE GREAT BOOKS CHANGED MY LIFE AND WHY THEY MATTER FOR A NEW GENERATION.
All three books provide a defense of liberal education rooted in the great books, but they do so in strikingly different ways.
We discuss desire, shame, and the how the encounter with great authors can shape your soul. Each author talks about the importance and difficulties of the teacher-student relationship. And we discuss the various threats and challenges to liberal education today.
Zena Hitz is a Tutor at St. John’s College and the founder of the Catherine Project. Jonathan Marks in Professor of Politics and chair of the Department of Politics and International Relations at Ursinus College. Roosevelt Montás is Senior Lecturer in American Studies and English at Columbia University. He is the Director of the American Studies’ Freedom and Citizenship Program.
Here are some links to reviews:
Zena on Jonathan
Jonathan on Zena
Jonathan on Roosevelt
Roosevelt on Zena
Flagg on Zena
February 9, 2022
This month our subject is Michael Oakeshott. We discuss two essays in particular: “A Place of Learning” and “Learning and Teaching.” Both essays can be found in the volume The Voice of Liberal Learning. Our guest is Elizabeth Corey of Baylor University. Elizabeth begins by providing a brief intellectual biography of Oakeshott. The bulk of our conversation takes up Oakeshott’s conception of liberal learning. He argues it is neither the acquisition of cultural knowledge or information nor the improvement of the mind. It is rather “learning to recognize some specific invitations to encounter particular adventures in human self-understanding.” Elizabeth and I discuss the distinctiveness of Oakeshott’s vision as well as his understanding of the primary challenges to liberal learning. We unpack Oakeshott’s meditation of the teacher-student relationship and end with a discussion of Oakeshott’s conservatism.
Elizabeth is an associate professor of Political Science at Baylor University, in Waco, Texas. Her writing has appeared in a variety of popular and scholarly journals, including First Things, National Affairs and The Wall Street Journal, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. She received a bachelor’s in Classics from Oberlin College, and master’s and doctoral degrees in Art History and Political Science from Louisiana State University. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Institute on Religion and Public Life, publisher of First Things. She is also an American Enterprise Faith and Public Life Visiting Professor during the year 2022.
January 10, 2022
This month we’re pleased to present a conversation on Eva Brann’s book Paradoxes of Education in a Republic. Brann serves as a tutor at St. John’s College—she’s the author of many books and Paradoxes was published in 1979. Our guest is Pavlos Papadopoulos—himself a graduate of St. John’s and now an assistant professor of humanities at Wyoming Catholic College. Brann’s vision of education is a bibliocentric one, rooted in reading the great books. Such an education’s purpose, as Pavlos articulates Brann’s vision, is to take up and read the worlds of knowledge, nature and art.
Brann’s book is a philosophical and historical inquiry into education. In thinking through the prospects for liberal education in a republic, she appeals to and quotes from a vast range of texts stretching back to ancient Greece, although her chief interlocutor is Thomas Jefferson. She examines three paradoxes (defined as a “dilemma inherent in the thing itself”): utility, tradition and rationality. It’s a short, penetrating and charming book that deserves a very wide audience.
Pavlos Papadopoulos teaches Great Books seminars on politics, literature, and history. He received his MA and PhD in Politics from the University of Dallas. Pavlos has a long-standing interest in the history of liberal arts education, especially the revival of liberal education in America that began in the early 20th century. It was while pursuing this interest that he first read, and later taught, Eva Brann's Paradoxes of Education in a Republic. Pavlos's writing has appeared in Interpretation, First Things, Law & Liberty, The American Mind, and The American Conservative.
December 6, 2021
In this episode Rita Koganzon and I discuss two essays by the philosopher Hannah Arendt: “Crisis in Education” and “Reflections on Little Rock.” The former was first published in Partisan Review in 1958 and the latter in Dissent in 1959. Rita gives an account of the context for the two essays and how they are related. We discuss Arendt’s critique of a number of progressive educational reforms including learning as doing and emancipating children from the authority of adults. Rita explains Arendt’s concept of natality and her understanding of the relationship between knowledge and authority. We discuss Arendt’s reasons for pessimism as far as school integration as an educational enterprise and why the Little Rock essay generated such controversy. We also discuss the relevance of Arendt’s reflections on education to our own time.
Rita Koganzon is the associate director of the Program on Constitutionalism and Democracy and Assistant Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia. Her research focuses on the themes of education, childhood, authority, and the family in historical and contemporary political thought. Her first book, Liberal States, Authoritarian Families: Childhood and Education in Early Modern Thought (Oxford, 2021) examines the justifications for authority over children from Jean Bodin to Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Her research and essays have been published in the American Political Science Review and the Review of Politics, as well as in the Hedgehog Review, National Affairs, The Point, and the Chronicle of Higher Education, among others. She received her PhD in Government from Harvard University, and her BA in History from the University of Chicago. Check out Rita’s essay “A Tale of Two Educational Traditions.”
“Crisis in Education” can be found in Between Past and Future and “Reflections on Little Rock” in Responsibility and Judgment.
November 26, 2021
Happy Thanksgiving! We are very pleased to bring you some bonus content—and this marks the first episode in our occasional series on minor works by the authors of the great books. Today we’re discussing the Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard’s work Two Ages. Kierkagaard is known primarily as the author of works such as Fear and Trembling, Philosophical Fragments, and Either/Or. Two Ages, published in 1846, is ostensibly of a review of the novel A Story of Everyday Life by Thomasine Christine Gyllembourg-Ehrensvärd (published the previous year). In this short essay he sketches and compares the defining features of the “age of revolution,” the era of the French Revolution, with his own age, the “present age.” It’s an exercise of what one might call philosophical sociology—which is why comparisons to Tocqueville often come up when approaching this compact and puzzling work.
My guest is Matthew Dinan. Matt is an associate professor in the great books program at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. He does research on classical, Christian, and contemporary political philosophy, and is currently writing a book called Kierkegaard's Socratic Political Philosophy. He’s the co-editor of Politics, Literature, and Film in Conversation (Lexington Books 2021), and his scholarly articles have appeared in journals like the European Journal of Political Theory, Review of Politics, International Journal of Philosophy. He has also written for magazines like The Hedgehog Review, Athwart, and Commonweal, and his writing has been anthologized in The Norton Reader.
Matt provides a short biographical sketch of Kierkegaard and explains the context for Two Ages. We explore Kierkegaard’s core contrast in the essay between an age of passion and an age of reflection. Matt explains why Kierkegaard thought envy had become a predominant passion in a reflective age. We also discuss what Kierkegaard means by “leveling” and make some comparisons to other thinkers including Tocqueville, Nietzsche, and Walker Percy. We conclude with some thoughts on the parallels between Kierkegaard’s “present age” and our own age. Would Kierkegaard be surprised by Matt’s extensive dishwasher research or by what social media does to human beings? Listen up to find out.
Send us a message on Twitter @theEIpod if you have ideas for works which we should include in this occasional series, or send an email to email@example.com.
November 1, 2021
With this episode Enduring Interest moves into a new series on the subject of education. In the coming months we will be hearing from guests on authors including Leo Strauss, Hannah Arendt, Eva Brann, Michael Oakshott, and others.
Leo Strauss once wrote, “I own that education is in a sense the subject matter of my teaching and my research.” Yet, as Michael and Catherine Zuckert note, Strauss wrote very little directly on this subject. “What is Liberal Education” was first given as a commencement address at the Basic Program of Liberal Education at the University of Chicago in the late 1950s—it was subsequently published in 1961. The second essay was prepared for a conference sponsored by the Fund for Adult Education—the organizers asked Strauss to elaborate on some lines from the first address. “Liberal Education and Responsibility” was then published in 1962. These two essays can be found in An Introduction to Political Philosophy: Ten Essays by Leo Strauss or in Liberalism Ancient and Modern.
Michael and Catherine Zuckert are both Nancy Reeves Dreux Professor Emeritus in the Department of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. They are currently visiting professors at Arizona State University’s School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership. In addition to their voluminous, independent scholarly work, together they are the co-authors of The Truth about Leo Strauss and Leo Strauss and the Problem of Political Philosophy. Listeners can find their reflections on the two essays under discussion here in chapter 11 of this latter volume.
The Zuckerts and I discuss Strauss’s understanding of education as the cultivation of the mind and the capacity to see human greatness. Although both essays ultimately point to liberal education as the study of what Strauss calls the great books, we explore the differences in these two essays. Strauss emphasizes different threats to liberal education—consumerism and mass democracy on the one hand and scientism and technocracy on the other. We also discuss Strauss’s biography and how he conducted himself in the classroom over the course of a long teaching career.
Strauss points to liberal education as something to be pursued for its own sake—a liberation from vulgarity. “The Greeks had a beautiful word for ‘vulgarity,’” notes Strauss, “they called it apeirokalia, lack of experience in things beautiful. Liberal education supplies us with experience of things beautiful.” As the Zuckerts emphasize in our conversation, Strauss also suggests liberal education is necessary for the civic goods it can yield. Liberal education might produce the moderation that “will protect us against the twin dangers of visionary expectations of politics and unmanly contempt for politics…It is in this way that the liberally educated may again receive a hearing even in the market place.”
We hope you enjoy the episode and don’t forget to rate Enduring Interest on iTunes and other places where you might get your podcasts. Follow us on Twitter: @theEIpod. We are sponsored by the Zephyr Institute.
October 15, 2021
In this episode I speak with four previous guests on the podcast (Clare Cavanagh, Jacob Howland, Perry Link, and James Pontuso) and take up the question of the relationship between art and totalitarianism. We consider the fate of artistic inquiry and expression under totalitarian regimes both past and present. Why and how have totalitarian regimes sought to control all forms of art. How successful were and are such regimes in this effort? How have artists both past and present managed to elude their totalitarian masters and produce enduring works of art? In answering these and other questions, my guests draw on a range of examples from regimes such as the Soviet Union, Communist Poland and Czechoslovakia, and the People’s Republic of China. We conclude with some recommendations for authors and books—especially for those who might be taking up this subject for the first time.