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    Monday, October 30, 2006

    Paleoconservatives Rock Tufts

    On Saturday, October 28, ISI held a day-long symposium on "America and the Idea of Ordered Liberty" (arent' they all named this?) at Tufts University. The event was dominated by that breed of paleoconservatives. Who are "paleoconservatives"? Well, think Pat Buchanan. Paleo-cons are more anti-authoritarian, stressing tradition, civil society, and federalism, along with familial, religious, regional, national, and Western identity. Thank you, Wikipedia.

    The day started with two foundational lectures - one by Professor Michael Federici of Mercyhurst College who spoke on "Rights and Duties: The Original Purpose of the Constitution" and another by Gary Gregg of the University of Louisville who spoke on "Deliberative Democracy and the Idea of Representation."

    Then, came the rock stars. And by "rock" stars, I don't mean any harm or foul to Federici or Gregg. By "rock"stars, I mean the final 3 speakers rocked - as in "shook things up." First, there was the always provocative, yet humorous, Bill Kauffman who was the lunch time speaker. He is the author of Look Homeward, America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals and Front-Porch Anarchists. Oh, he's not only in search of them, he's one of them. He gave a talk titled, "The Anti-Federalist Critique" and focused mostly on the life and thought of the Anti-Federalist, Luther Martin. Kauffman argued that there has been an Anti-Federalist strain running throughout American history - at least there has been in his "alternative America."

    Next came Professor Marshall DeRosa from Florida Atlantic University who spoke on "War, Union, and American Democracy after 1865." Let me cut to the point: he gave a defense of the Confederacy. He made a lot of great points about the Confederate argument against nationalism and for regionalism and states rights. With the role of the UN today, DeRosa warned about how the Confederacy's arguments against nationalism would also apply against the move towards a world government (or even things like the EU or NAFTA).

    However, he didn't win over the anti-slavery, pro-Lincoln Yankee crowd. Though there were many that agreed with him, there was certainly a fiery exchange. DeRosa is certainly opposed to slavery, but he's also opposed to the Civil War. Yep, these paleo-cons really don't like any war. But, he has a solid argument: why did 600,000 people have to die and 200,000 slaves have to starve to death after they were freed at the conclusion of the Civil War in order to end slavery just a little earlier than it would have ended anyway (according to DeRosa). The writing was on the wall - the economic need for slavery was running out of steam. But, let's move on to contemporary subjects...

    The final lecture of the day was by Professor Claes Ryn, a Swedish-born political theorist at Catholic University. He spoke about "The ideology of American Empire" and started the lecture by saying we shouldn't be using the term "neo-conservative" - that's just not a proper description of the people we are trying to refer to. Instead, we should call them the "neo-Jacobins" because they are trying to remake the world, turn cultures on their heads, and supplant those cultures with their own. There's too much about his lecture that I could write about, but this post would go on too far... let's just say, it was provocative and he isn't exactly in favor of the war in Iraq.

    About 100 students and faculty from the Boston area attended and it was a fantastic time. One student told me they learned more in that one day then they had in four years at Tufts University. Yep, that's ISI. We "bring it." The next regional conference (like this one) that will be held is slated for March in Charlotesville, Virginia. If you're within a 4-hour drive, you won't want to miss it. ISI. Off the chains, yo.

    Tuesday, October 17, 2006

    Maggie and I with students at Franciscan University, in front of the statue of my name sake, St. Francis of Assisi. Posted by Picasa

    Two Catholics Visit Two Catholic Schools

    On Sunday, October 15, my colleague Maggie Perry and I ventured to Steubenville, Ohio to meet with students at Franciscan University - Steubenville. If you follow my blog, you'll remember I dubbed Franciscan the "best Catholic University in the nation" in my post on April 20, 2006. I still hold to that. And, this time, since I was visiting on a Sunday, I wanted to attend mass.

    Mass at Franciscan University is an incredible experience. What a powerful worship it was. Since we were traveling from an hour away (Pittsburgh), we got there a bit early to meet up with Terrance Schilling, who will be leading the ISI Group at Franciscan. Terrance and his girlfriend Becca Herr met us a bit early. But, the chapel was getting packed by 10:30am. Hundreds of students come early to pray and many stayed much longer after mass to continue praying. It is no wonder that his university turns out more students to religious life than any other Catholic school in the nation.

    After mass, we went to lunch with Terrance, Becca, and two other students, Patrice and Teresa. They are really great kids and I have a lot of hope that this group will be successful. ISI has tradtionally had a great relationship with many students and professors at Franciscan, but no real "group" has been there for quite some time (if ever?) Now, it appears there will be an intellectual formative group where these very conservative Catholics can dive even deeper into the deepness that is conservativism and Catholicism.

    On Sunday night, Maggie and I went about an hour or so north to an area just about 30 mintues north of Pittsburgh to stay with her grandmother, who is a charming lady. On Monday, we drove back towards Philly and Delaware, but we stopped at St. Vincent's College in Latrobe, PA. We met up for lunch with some faculty that run the Center for Political and Economic Thought. ISI is helping to co-sponsor some of the lectures they are bringing in. They were very delightful folks and we got a pretty extensive tour of the school, which is America's first Benedictine College. The basilica on campus was just amazing. The curriculum and culture is fairly conservative and the school is actually listed in ISI's All American Colleges guide. (I'm not sure, but Franciscan might be in there too). Just for the record, Franciscan University has been listed in ISI's Choosing the Right College guide.

    After we had lunch, we got back on the road. We had about 4 hours left. Then, I could finally get home and pass out.

    Sunday, October 15, 2006

    Philadelphia Society meets in Pittsburgh

    On the weekend of October 13-14, I attended the Philadelphia Society's regional meeting in Pittsburgh. I was there with about 5 other colleagues from ISI - all other young staffers. The old guard (Mark Henrie, Jeff Nelson, John Vella, Jeremy Beer, Chad Kifer) decided to skip out on this one it seems. But it was great to get the experience of going. This was now my third "Philly Soc" meeting.

    The Philadelphia Society was co-founded in 1964 by Russell Kirk and other prominent conservatives. Some have described it as "ISI after college". Not a bad description. The meetings are very academic in nature. Papers are presented and topics are discussed that may not be able to be presented elsewhere given the current state of the university. The theme of this meeting was on "The Contested Roots of American Liberty." It focused, for the most part, on our British heritage and how that heritage had an influence at the time of the founding and beyond. Religion was also discussed to a great degree.

    Philly Soc meetings are also great opportunities to "network" and simply to meet other very interesting people... and believe me, I met some (for better or worse). But, it's always interesting. They are serious conservatives discussing serious contemporary issues and looking back at history for guidance. The weekend was fun, but by the end of it, I sure was exhausted. And, even though the conference ended Saturday night with M. Stanton Evans presiding as the emcee, my travels were not over. I still had two more schools to visit, but this time, I had a travel partner - my colleague and friend, Margaret Perry. Two Catholics would visit two very Catholic schools.

    Saturday, October 14, 2006

    Pittsburgh and Western PA

    After being in DC for a few days, I traveled back out west, not quite as far as Michigan and Indiana, but still about 4-5 hours west to the Pittsburgh area.

    On Thursday evening, October 12th, we held a "Get to Know ISI" soiree at Carnegie Mellon University. It was a very poor turnout - only 3 students and 1 field rep from the Leadership Institute (David Beers) showed up. But, for the 5 of us, there was plenty of pizza (wow, I bought too much). And, the 3 students that did show up seemed very interested, and they even told me it's hard to get any conservative students out to any events at Carnegie Mellon. So be it. We tried. I left them with ALOT of ISI literature, so maybe they passed it out and some seeds are being planted.

    After the event, David Beers and I grabbed a few drinks at a local spot in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh was very impressive to me. Very neat architecture, among the buildings and bridges (lots of bridges! and tunnels!)

    The next day, I woke up and traveled north about an hour to Grove City College, where I had lunch with our ISI Group there, which is doing VERY WELL. Led by Professor Jason Edwards, a former ISI Salvatori Fellow and Douglas El-Sanadi, an ISI honors fellow, they have been reading like crazy. Only 6 months ago, I visited GCC and there wasn't very much happening with the group then. But, then Dr. Edwards got involved. Over the summer they read Science, Politics, Gnosticism by Eric Voegelin and Visions of Order by Richard Weaver. (That is some really tough reading!) Now, they are becoming engrossed with The Superfluous Men: Conservative Critics 1900-1945, which is a collection of essays from the "conservatives" before the conservative movement began in 1945. And, they are also reading one of the most recent titles from ISI Books, Look Homeward, America! by Bill Kauffman.

    This was my second visit ever to Grove City College. I love the place. It's a conservative's dream when it comes to the education and the culture. And, these students and professors are taking it up a notch intellectually. Impressive. I drove back to Pittsburgh after our extended lunch meeting and got ready for the Philadelphia Society's regional meeting there. More on that in the next post.

    Wednesday, October 11, 2006

    Conservatism on Tap: Taking on Big Business and Big Government

    On October 10, another edition of the ISI Young Alumni's Conservatism on Tap event took place in Washington, D.C. This time, it was moved to a new and much more impressive venue: The District Chophouse in the heart of downtown D.C. There are no distractions there, as we had our own room in the basement, where it was quiet enough to hear our speaker, Mr. Tim Carney.

    Mr. Carney gave a talk on the topic of his book, The Big Ripoff: How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money. It was a good talk and it many people there (especially those that are "new" to ISI) told me it was refreshing to hear a conservative be just as critical of big business as they are of big government.

    The next "Conservatism on Tap" takes place on Saturday, November 4th from 2-4pm at the District Chophouse. The speaker is Dr. Brad Wilcox from the University of Virginia who will speak on the topic, "Why Marriage Matters: A view from the social sciences."

    Thursday, October 05, 2006

    Going Back to Indiana

    Well, after spending some time in South Bend, Indiana... Kenneth and I traveled down to Indiana Wesleyan University and Ball State University. Both towns are situated in areas surrounded by corn fields. We could almost smell it.

    The students we met with at IWU seemed really motivated and were excited about ISI. When I asked them to pick out a place to meet, they chose the best off-campus venue they could think of: Applebee's! Kenneth and I thought, "Bill Kaufmann wouldn't like this." Mr. Kauffman is a "localist" and doesn't care much for large chains like Applebee's, as his ISI Books title, Look Homeward, America points out on many occassions. Anyways, the locals chose Applebee's, so we're off the hook. The state chair of the College Republicans, Eric Bussis, attends IWU and he put together the ISI Soiree at Applebee's.

    The next day, we went just a bit further south to Ball State University and met with some students there as well. Then, finally, on Wednesday, October 4, we packed the bags for the final time and headed back across Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania and back home. It was an exhausting, but productive trip... spreading the conservative revolution, one campus at a time.

    Tuesday, October 03, 2006

    ISI at Notre Dame

    After we left Mecosta, Kenneth and I drove down to Indiana. On Sunday evening, October 1, we held a "Get to Know ISI" soiree at the University of Notre Dame. The Irish Rover, which is on ISI's Collegiate Network, help set it up. About 35 students attended and they were treated to free pizza and sodas, and plenty of ISI materials, including brochures, journals, books, student's guides, and even t-shirts. I gave a short talk on all of ISI's programs and how students could get involved.

    No worries, plenty of students at Notre Dame are already well involved with ISI. Before our visit, I think I noticed that we had at least 150 current ISI members at Notre Dame alone. Many were involved with the ISI Group, the Orestes Brownson Council, while others are involved with ISI's Collegiate Network publication, The Irish Rover. On Monday morning, Kenneth and I had breakfast with three ND graduate students who are going to start another ISI group at Notre Dame, one solely for grad students. The 3 that we met with are all in their first semester at Notre Dame and have all been ISI Honors Fellows as undergraduates. All are coming from separate schools and are now finding they "need" ISI as grad students at Notre Dame. It's too bad I wasn't accepted there, maybe I could have joined them.

    ISI is now hitting Notre Dame from all angles - an undergrad group, a grad student group, a media publication, not to mention the many faculty and students that are ISI members, and the many lectures ISI helps bring to the Notre Dame campus each year.

    I'll reiterate this experience about Notre Dame again, as I did when I blogged about my experience there this past April: their student life is great. Once again, I celebrated mass with Tommy Forr, the Editor of The Irish Rover (and one of the best students I know) at his 10pm dorm mass. Several other ISI students were at the same mass. You can't beat the experience of coming back to your dorm and being a part of celebrating the foundational Catholic traditions and culture with your fellow classmates and dormmates.

    This university could be doing better... but for now, with the help of ISI and the strength of its student life, it's doing just fine.

    Monday, October 02, 2006

    ISI intellectual retreat at the home of Russell Kirk

    Here is a group photo inside the Kirk home at the conclusion of the ISI intellectual retreat at Piety Hill in Mecosta, Michigan. Posted by Picasa

    On Friday, September 29, we kicked off an intellectual weekend in Mecosta, Michigan at the home of Russell Kirk. Kenneth and I at ISI led another ISI intellectual retreat, featuring Annette Kirk, author Jim Person, and Professor Richard Gamble (Hillsdale). 14 students attended, from schools including the University of Notre Dame, Indiana Wesleyan University, Hillsdale College, Wayne State University, and Michigan State. Three Wilbur Foundation Fellows took part in our weekend as well (they are "in residence at Piety Hill for the semester).

    On Friday night, we met at the Outback Lodge, a large bed and breakfast place where all the students stayed for the weekend. It's about 10 minutes from Piety Hill, the Kirk home. They made us a "ribs and chicken" buffet spread with lots of other pickings. After dinner, I introduced the weekend and then Annette Kirk gave a talk about her Life with Russell Kirk. Following her talk, she answered questions. The whole segment went on for about 90 minutes. The students (and myself) absolutely loved hearing her talk about her life, and her life with Russell Kirk, who wrote The Conservative Mind in 1953, a book that identified a conservative tradition in American and gave a "name" to the movement.

    On Saturday, the students gathered in the Kirk library and we heard from author Jim Person, a Michigander who wrote the first biography about Kirk titled, Russell Kirk: A Critical Biography of a Conservative Mind. Mr. Person and Mrs. Kirk fielded some questions about the library, the home, and the man and his thought. We had lunch at the Checkerboard Diner in downtown Mecosta and then made a visit to the gravesite of Russell Kirk. On his grave is a quote from his favorite author, T.S. Eliot. It says: "The communication of the dead is tounged with fire beyond the language of the living." His grave is situated in a very pastoral setting, in a cemetery of the parish of St. Michael's in a town called Remus, about 10 minutes from the Kirk home.

    After we paid our respects, we went to the bookstore in Mecosta, which has about 100,000 books! I picked up a couple Kirk titles and another title. The students and I spent at least an hour or two in the bookstore. Then, we went back and rested for the evening, some spent some quality time of their own in the Kirk library.

    That evening, we returned to the Kirk library, all dressed up, and heard a lecture from Professor Richard Gamble of Hillsdale College. He gave a splendid talk on "Russell Kirk and the American Identity." It was a reflection on Kirk, his thought on American history and America's role in the world, and the students asked questions about Kirk's thought with contemporary issues in mind. Dr. Gamble recounted some personal encounters he had with Kirk towards the end of Kirk's life. This was his first visit to Mecosta and he told me that visiting Piety Hill and lecturing in the Kirk library was one of the thrills of his academic calling.

    After the lecture, we went to the Kirk home (which Kenneth and I had been privileged to be at earlier the previous day to prepare with Mrs. Kirk for the weekend). We had a catered dinner in the home and then Jim Person led some Kirk ghost stories in the living room. (In addition to being a writer on political thought, Kirk also was a fictional ghost story writer and he had some real ghost stories in his home that he often drew from). We turned off all the lights, lit some candles, and listened intently. We then closed the official activities of the weekend and left the legendary Piety Hill at dark. It was an experience I'll never forget.

    Kenneth and I had pulled up to Piety Hill on our own on Friday morning well before the students arrived and we had lunch with Mrs. Kirk. At a table that sat four, Mrs. Kirk sat at one end, and Kenneth and I sat across from each other. To my left, there was an open chair, but during the course of the nearly 90-minute lunch, I glanced over a few times to that empty chair, I kept thinking in the back of my mind that Russell Kirk was sitting there listening in on our conversation, perhaps listening with hope for the rising generation. I only hope our weekend helped inspire that rising generation.