What conservative academics can bring to CU Boulder
Editor’s note: In light of recent controversies surrounding John Eastman’s pivotal role in the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, the Daily Camera Editorial Board thought it would be a good idea to hear from someone who has already held the same guest researcher in conservative thought. and the chair of politics Eastman held at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and to find out more about what that meant to him. Francis J. Beckwith compelled us with this thoughtful article about his time at the Benson Center.
By Francis J. Beckwith
Over five years ago, I arrived on the University of Colorado Boulder campus, to serve as the 2016-2017 Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Politics at the Center for Western Civilization, Thought and Policy (now called Benson Center). The position had been created as a pilot program just three years earlier. Its purpose, as I understood it, was to increase intellectual diversity on campus. Not because a faculty member with heterodox views can really provide an ideological balance in a hegemonic ethic. But rather, that a professor with the right balance of academic achievement, teaching ability, temperament, and collegiality can help thaw out an icy skepticism that often hides a university’s implicit bias against non-progressive scholarships. .
This is the main reason I stayed away from partisan politics during my year at CU Boulder. Considering the civic importance of the position and the unique role its occupant is supposed to play on campus, I thought it was not a good idea to publicly immerse yourself in the fleeting enthusiasms of the moment during an election year. After all, I thought to myself, I was hired to be the scholar of conservative thought and politics, not the official (or unofficial) spokesperson for a candidate or political party. In a way, I felt like Bob Dylan in 1963 after winning the Tom Paine Award from the Emergency Civil Liberties Union (ECLU) “[T]there are only ups and downs… And I try to go up without thinking about anything insignificant like politics.
And besides, it is not clear what precisely it means to be a conservative. Does that mean one has to be a registered Republican? I’m not. Does this mean adopting a libertarian view of the economy? I do not. Although I believe in free markets and private property, I also believe that some activities of life cannot be understood by market reasoning without corrupting them. In this regard, my views are close to those of Harvard political theorist Michael Sandel in his book “What Money Can’t Buy”. Does being conservative mean sticking to traditionalist positions on social issues, such as abortion, like I do? I do not think so. Because there are a lot of eminent academic curators out there who think I’m wrong, and yet they would be just as (or perhaps more) qualified to be a visiting scholar than I am. Does being conservative mean that one must adopt an originalist vision of the constitutional interpretation as defended by the late United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia? I usually do, but I’m not as confident about it as I was just five years ago. In fact, among some self-identified conservatives, there is a movement away from Scalia’s originalism towards what is called the originalism of the common good. On other issues, such as immigration, drugs, the environment, criminal justice reform, public education, foreign policy, and free trade, I am difficult to classify.
What I mean here is that conservatism is a big tent with different factions not marching at the same pace. This is why I am convinced that anyone who holds the position of Visiting Scholar should make a point – in their classes, public lectures and the people they invite to campus – to present the wide range of voices to the CU community. that fall under the kind of conservatism.
During my year at CU, I taught four courses, three in Philosophy and one in Political Science. What guided my teaching is quite simple: a good teacher, whatever his political opinions, must take care of presenting to his students authors, ideas, stories and figures which will awaken the imagination in order to move intellect, for we are in fact beings moved by wonder, beauty, justice and the pursuit of truth. Indoctrination is the death knell of true education.
I am, of course, aware of the recent controversies concerning one of my successors, who I believe did not fully appreciate the solemn responsibility of the visiting scholar to jealously guard the integrity of the post. Nonetheless, I am confident that the continued growth and expansion of the Benson Center – and the promise that it can contribute to the national conversation – will serve as a model for cultivating academic diversity that other institutions will seek to emulate.
Francis J. Beckwith is Professor of Philosophy, Affiliate Professor of Political Science, and Associate Director of the Graduate Program in Philosophy at Baylor University. His site is francisbeckwith.com