After 12+ years of talking: “He thinks I’m wrong, I think he’s wrong.
OK. Let’s continue to wrestle with these things.”
After having been introduced over a decade ago by a mutual student, Dr. Cornel West (formerly African American studies at Princeton University, now at Harvard Divinity School) and Dr. Robert George (Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton) their first meeting overshot their scheduled hour by three hours – and as they stood at the car ready to leave George “held [his] hand on the car latch for another 30 minutes while we kept going at it.” They’ve since become close friends and have taught a class together on the great books that inspired their individual intellectual journeys from Plato to MLK to Marx to Hayek.
A leading champion of religious freedom, George was described by the New York Times as “this country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker.” Author of a number of books, his most recent is Conscience and Its Enemies: Confronting the Dogmas of Liberal Secularism.
Let’s just say that West sees the world through a somewhat different lens as the honorary chair of Democratic Socialists of America. His books? They include The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought, Race Matters. Not exactly the usual pair.
The pursuit of knowledge and the maintenance of a free and democratic society require the cultivation and practice of the virtues of intellectual humility, openness of mind, and, above all, love of truth. (Joint statement)
Where they bond: they both perceive that they are engaged in a quest for truth, which the friends “long ago fell in love with.”
All of us “should be willing — even eager — to engage with anyone who is prepared to do business in the currency of truth-seeking discourse by offering reasons, marshaling evidence and making arguments,” George and West wrote. “The more important the subject under discussion, the more willing we should be to listen and engage — especially if the person with whom we are in conversation will challenge our deeply held — even our most cherished and identity-forming — beliefs.”
George describes it this way: “… we both recognize that if somebody does that — someone shows us that we’re wrong about something or we’ve drawn a conclusion that isn’t rationally warranted — that person is not our enemy. That person is our best friend. Even if it’s embarrassing to be refuted or contradicted in public, there’s still nothing more important than the possession of the truth.” A tireless advocate for freedom of speech and expression on both the left and the right, George doesn’t just walk the walk – he established the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton.
Together they crafted this statement of principle.
This pair of academics seem to also both share a deep embrace of humility. George describes that “we both recognize that if somebody… shows us that we’re wrong about something or we’ve drawn a conclusion that isn’t rationally warranted — that person is not our enemy. That person is our best friend. Even if it’s embarrassing to be refuted or contradicted in public, there’s still nothing more important than the possession of the truth.”
They call each other “Brother Cornel” and “Brother Robbie.” “Our spirits and our souls resonated,” says West.
Note: If you’ve got a bit of time one day, you won’t be sorry to spend it reading the transcript of an hour long West/George interview with The Washington Times. Prepare to take notes as they drop wisdom.