Monday, November 22, 2010

Mutual Admiration

On last Thursday and Friday, Brad Birzer - the Russell Amos Kirk Chair and professor of History at Hillsdale College - was the guest of program I founded and direct at Georgetown, the Tocqueville Forum on the Roots of American Democracy.

Birzer has written very fine studies on J.R.R. Tolkein and Christopher Dawson, but it was his most recent book - American Cicero, on Charles Carroll of Carrollton - that was the inspiration for us to invite him to deliver the fifth annual Carroll lecture, named in honor of Charles's cousin, Fr. John Carroll, S.J., founder of Georgetown.

Brad's lecture was nothing short of brilliant - an inspiring exploration of the classical influences on the Founding, ones particularly manifest in the thought of Charles Carroll. Carroll's admiration for the ancients - especially Cicero - was evident in his understanding of the nature of republican self-government, an understanding that America today would do well to familiarize itself with anew.

The following day, Brad led a small, informal discussion about T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets for a small but intensely interested group of Georgetown students. Brad had the ineffable ability to convey to all of us in attendance that we were taking part in a great conversation of ancient origin, equally a part of the great Western tradition that stretches back to antiquity and was compellingly re-described by Eliot in modernist tones, but ancient pedigree. Every one of us came out of that room a bit dazed, wondering where we'd been for the past hour-and-a-half, suddenly stepping back into the diurnal world but one now intensely suffused with meaning, hope and sacramentality.

Brad has written about his experience at Georgetown here. It's a highly complimentary portrait of our efforts at Georgetown. I thank him for the kind words he offers about the program I lead and the possibilities at Georgetown. Appropriately, it is a time of Thanksgiving.

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