If you are in the Washington, D.C. area, then I urge you to put this on your calendar for tonight, even if it means leaving work or class a little bit early. For today at 5:00 pm in Gaston Hall, Georgetown University government professor James V. Schall, S.J. will be delivering his final lecture before retirement. All that we know at this point is its title: “The Final Gladness” – and to be honest, even if we did not have that title, I would still urge those of you who are in the Washington metropolitan region to make an effort to attend, and hear what this great mind is going to share with us.
Father Schall earned his Ph.D. in political philosophy at Georgetown in 1960, and has been one of the great intellects of the university ever since. The author of more than 30 books, as well as a contributor to many others, for decades he has been a voice of reason and common sense both in the United States and around the world. His articles and essays have appeared in publications such as the National Review, Economist, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, L’Osservatore Romano, Christian Science Monitor, First Things, Crisis, Commentary, and so many, MANY others, that one is humbled by both the quantity and quality of his output.
Even if you are not a Catholic, chances are you have read Father Schall’s writing somewhere, if you have studied politics or current events beyond the mind-numbingly pedestrian, screaming-as-analysis sort of nonsense that tends takes place these days in certain quarters, both left and right. He has seen it all, over the past fifty years, and has been a part of the national conversation long before many of my readers were even born. His calm witness to classical principles, from the virtues of the classical academy to the benefits of a sensibly governed democracy, is no less sharp and insightful now, in his mid-80’s, as our country’s future hangs rather precariously in the balance.
For example, the reader may recall that in April of this year, Congressman Paul Ryan came to speak at Georgetown about the budget battle and the philosophical underpinnings of each side, left and right, with respect to the role of government in out lives. As it happens, that lecture was given in the very same hall where Father Schall will deliver his final lecture this evening. The reader may recall that a number of the leftist faculty on campus turned out to criticize Congressman Ryan, even before he made his speech to the faculty and students.
Father Schall was, very decidedly, not among these. In his review of Congressman Ryan’s speech, Father Schall pointed out that the present Administration appears more and more interested in taking control over the wealth of others, in order to foster greater dependency upon the government:
This accumulation of wealth gives government huge power over citizens who are increasingly dependent on it. They are increasingly afraid to oppose its growth for fear that they will be cut out of societal benefits. Indeed, there is considerable speculation that this growing dependence of more and more citizens on the government is precisely what many politicians, bureaucrats, and other interested parties want. This leaves a mass of voters who do not dare oppose the state but who demand more and more for themselves.
He went on to observe how our increasing dependence on the government as the provider of goodies for all is not going to make our country wealthier and thereby better-able to take care of the poor; instead, the reverse will happen:
The poor are not poor because the rich are rich. The only way for the poor to hope to increase their wealth is for the economy itself to grow as a result of their own endeavors. This is the classic notion that we must allow reward and incentive to flourish. If we take these away, no one will do anything to help himself. Everyone will become more dependent on a government increasingly willing to claim that it is itself the solution. Americans once knew this approach of the all-caring government was, to put it mildly, counter-productive and even dangerous.
In his personal philosophy of education, Father Schall has always been decidedly opposed to the idea that the university is nothing but an over-priced trade school. Rather, in the Platonic tradition of the Academy, it is a place where minds go to be formed, away from the influences of the outside world, so that they can come to understand what is true. He has often pointed out that more learning can arise from a good conversation in a pub, asking questions and challenging notions, than in simply memorizing and regurgitating facts in order to get a high mark in a class, and thereafter a high-paying job.
In an interview he gave recently, Father Schall pointed out that many universities, including Georgetown, have abandoned the idea of what the university is supposed to be, becoming “resumé universities” in pursuit of the almighty dollar, rather than classical universities in pursuit of truth:
“Resumé universities have students who focus on their internships, their extracurricular activities, their sports. What’s behind them is the notion that education is more than just knowing, but that detracts from the purpose of a university,” he said. “You can’t be a student if you’re doing 30 hours a week of something else.” Schall maintains that students should remain actively involved in their educations whenever not in class. “Of course you can do nothing if you want, but you have the time to be free to be thinking about things,” he said.
Whether you have long admired Father Schall’s work, or whether you are now reading it for the first time, this is an event not to be missed. Although Gaston Hall seats around 600 people, I suspect that it is going to be packed to the rafters with people who will want to hear Father Schall’s last public address to the Georgetown community. Again, if you are in the Washington area this evening, I urge you: do not miss this opportunity to wish this very great man well, as he leaves the active teaching life to prepare for what comes next.
The Rev. James V. Schall, S.J.