’Tis the Season

At the start of the presidential primary season, Thomas More College in Merrimack, N.H., launched a political studies center. By Mary Ann Sullivan.

While Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were mixing it up and dominating New Hampshire headlines with verbal blows and counterpunches, Thomas More College in New Hampshire quietly launched its Center for the Renewal of New England Politics and Culture.

Growing out of a political science program at Thomas More College’s small and intimate Merrimack, N.H., campus, the Center for the Renewal of New England Politics and Culture plans to leverage its political position in New Hampshire — which every four years draws major political candidates into the streets, onto the stumps and in front of the cameras — to introduce students and the culture at large to traditional methods used for analyzing politics, bringing historical principles, real world political experience, theories of Western civilization and Catholic teaching to the conversation.

“We want to venture forth and do what we can in this political environment to contribute to evangelization,” said Thomas More College President Jeffrey Nelson. “As we move forward with this center, we will invite students and faculty from other colleges in the region to develop and network and contribute to the discussion of Catholic social traditions and institutions in the contemporary world.”

Programs Are Vital

Assumption, Providence and Holy Cross are among the colleges Nelson will invite to participate in the center’s programs.
Chad Kiver, director of Program Advancement at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute in Wilmington, Del., believes intercollegial political conversations and programs like the Center for the Renewal of New England Politics and Culture are vital.

Said Kiver, “Unlike turning the television on every night and watching the political punditry, it allows for an environment of thoughtful consideration. It’s not just about watching a demagogue or persons giving inflammatory comments to those on the other side of the issues. It points students away from media politics and instructs them in the history of Western civilization and its institutions and values and tries to encourage genuine participation.”

Within earshot of a Hillary Clinton rally in Manchester, the center’s first event, on Jan. 5, delivered on its promise.

National Review writers Jonah Goldberg, Rob Long and Mark Steyn sat together on a small stage at the Radisson Hotel, engaging an audience of 450 as they examined the New Hampshire primary debate and issues, seeking to put them into a broader historical and Catholic perspective.

“I actually skipped out and showed up late to our event because I was next door at a Hillary Clinton rally,” said Kathryn Lopez, editor of National Review Online. “In enemy territory, I took great joy in laughter from the Goldberg-Long-Steyn event interrupting master pol Bill Clinton. That’s renewing politics and culture, if I’ve ever seen it.”

Pointing to New England’s tradition of Puritan settlements, town meetings and transcendentalism, Nelson said the Center for the Renewal of New England Politics and Culture will also consider the great thinkers of this region, and recover the Catholic social traditions that have been at times vigorous though not always visible in New England.

Teddy Sifert, who graduated from Thomas More last May, hopes to work for the center in an administrative capacity. The Great Books he read as part of his education at Thomas More play a part in his political reflections.

“Right now, most politicians have to cater to the whims of an uneducated populace,” said Sifert. “Demagogues such as Barack Obama and John Edwards, who make promises to the world that they can’t keep, can gain ground in places like New Hampshire because many New England citizens are uneducated.”

Sifert compared Obama to the Athenian statesman and orator Pericles, but quickly added, “Obama is a demagogue, and Alexander Hamilton said tyrants commence as demagogues who promise the world to people, but after they are elected they become tyrants.”

All too often politicians and their constituents are concerned with the news of the day. But the faculty at Thomas More believe many problems of today are answered by Catholic teachings and solutions of the past, such as those formulated by the Greeks and the Romans.

According to Nelson, the Center for the Renewal of New England Politics and Culture aims to bring knowledge of the history of western civilization beyond the walls of Thomas More to the people of New England.

“This is what colleges used to do,” Kiver added. “There used to be this kind of give and take, this kind of dialogue. But because today’s universities are over-politicized and don’t necessarily care about the values dear to our Western patrimony, colleges feel a need to create these centers to fill that void.”

Other Aims

The center has two other aims. It hopes to renew the Catholic Church in New England.

“Whether because of the crisis in the ranks of our leaders, weakening of education systems, the increasing culture of relativism, and lack of historical literacy, we have an obligation to help the Church and our culture,” said Nelson. And the center also seeks to educate high school students by establishing a resource center that will provide literature and tools for high school history teachers seeking to broaden their student’s knowledge of Western civilization.

Thomas More College is seeking further seed funding to staff the center. Friends in the New Hampshire community and board members are helping the center reach out to the public by setting up internships. Because the center is a program of the college, its day-to-day activities are governed by its president.

Nelson said the college does not want to politicize issues as right or left. It simply wishes to maintain a strong focus on Catholic teaching and on serious engagements with Western civilization, American history and political cultures.
Some people believe there is no better place than New Hampshire to launch a political center.

Said Lopez, “Jeff Nelson is doing the Lord’s work in New Hampshire, building a smart, Catholic, vibrant hub for political ideas in exactly the right place. … He has already got us national types paying attention. I can only imagine what it will look like when we’re all back in New Hampshire in four years.”

Mary Ann Sullivan is based in

New Durham, New Hampshire.