PRINCETON, N.J — Infanticide proponent Peter Singer might not be the most radical professor at Princeton after all.
It might just be a politics professor named Robert George.
“Robby is almost alone in being an outspoken conservative on moral issues in the ivies,” said National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru, who studied under George at Princeton. “And he articulates the case for his positions at an appropriately sophisticated level.”
Steve Forbes agrees.
“Robert George is probably the only pro-life professor at Princeton,” said Forbes.
At most Ivy League schools, Forbes said, traditional morality has been relegated to the sidelines in intellectual debates. “It's like the monasteries in the Dark Ages,” Forbes explained.
'There's an orthodoxy sometimes ruthlessly enforced in elite American universities.’
Which is why the millionaire publisher and former presidential candidate is happy to lend financial support to the James Madison Program, a new project started by George to spark a discussion at Princeton about abortion, religion and politics. Forbes had made national headlines for withdrawing support from his alma mater when they hired infanticide proponent Peter Singer in 1999.
Forbes confirmed, however, that he is now financially supporting the James Madison Program. “They have a heroic battle in front of them,” he said.
And George is clear about what he's battling against.
“There's an orthodoxy sometimes ruthlessly enforced in elite American universities,” said George. “Anyone who has held positions different from that orthodoxy in an elite university knows that the toleration of views is a joke.”
George said that the James Madison Program was needed to invigorate debate once again.
“For some reason, liberals don't want an argument. I want to have an interesting debate on abortion, homosexuality, capital punishment and on cloning,” said George.
Princeton University officials declined to comment on the campus's intellectual atmosphere for this article.
“I'm happy to have a debate. I believe the Church's teaching on abortion. I believe the Judeo-Christian view of the sanctity of marriage,” said George, who is Princeton's McCormick Professor for Jurisprudence, a chair once held by President Woodrow Wilson.
George noted that it's ironic that today's liberals criticize the Catholic faith for supposedly being intellectually monolithic.
“This current kind of liberalism is far less tolerant of dissent than were Catholic universities of a previous generation,” said George, who is Catholic.
The James Madison Program started only last summer, but it has already become quite a fixture on campus. An April lecture series on religion featured a talk by John DiIulio, a former Princeton professor who now runs the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiative.
The James Madison Program plans to form a society of scholars outside of Princeton while also inviting six visiting scholars to campus this autumn. In addition, the program is preparing to host a conference on the Declaration of Independence in November and intends to inaugurate the John Witherspoon Medal for Statesmanship.
“Given that we've just started, it is ambitious,” said associate director Seana Sugrue. “People are very excited about the program.”
People like sophomore Matt O'Brien of Swarthmore, Pa.
“The James Madison Program fills an intellectual gap at Princeton,” said O'Brien. “In the past, certain ideas and viewpoints have often been dismissed before they were even considered.”
O'Brien believes that the program will heighten respect for those currently outside the liberal orthodoxy.
“From an academic standpoint, traditional Judeo-Christian viewpoints are often seen as antiquated and simple-minded. It is assumed by many that a traditional Jew or Christian cannot be a serious thinker,” said O'Brien. “I think the James Madison Project will challenge students to question critically the received wisdom they get from most other professors.”
And because the James Madison Program conducts debates on religion and abortion, it can attract nationally known conservative speakers who might have no other venue in the Ivy Leagues.
“Word is already going around the politics department, and even the campus, that if one wants to meet the country's top political theorists, then he should get involved in the Madison Program,” said Niall Fagan, a sophomore from Washington, D.C.
Sugrue had only kind words for President Shapiro, who will step down in June.
“We are very thankful to President Shapiro for allowing the creation of the program,” said Sugrue. “The administration has been very helpful.”
Fagan also noted that questions surrounding President Harold Shapiro's reasons for supporting the program should be dismissed.
“It is often said that the university was obligated to support the program after hiring Professor Peter Singer, but this should not hide the fact that the administration actually did support it, and indeed gave it the freedom to govern itself,” said Fagan. “Princeton deserves credit for providing more than lip service to its commitment to foster intellectual debate at the highest level.”
Josh Mercer writes from Washington.