Taking the Measure of Where We Are Today
The Annual Robert J. Giuffra '82 Conference
Keynote Address: Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director, James Madison Program, Princeton University, in conversation with Meir Y. Soloveichik, Rabbi, Congregation Shearith Israel; Director, Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought, Yeshiva University
When asked what kind of government the Constitutional Convention had proposed for America, Benjamin Franklin is said to have replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Franklin’s remark reminds us of the challenge faced—and the responsibility borne—by each generation of citizens that is blessed to live in our free society. Each generation is charged with “keeping,” with preserving and transmitting, the freedom we have inherited. Accordingly, each generation must diagnose for itself the health and strength of the free society in its own time. We are obliged to ask: Is the civilization of freedom growing stronger, sustained, perhaps, by the benevolent advance of history? Or is belief in the necessary progress of freedom a pleasing but dangerous illusion, obscuring the possibility that the civilization of freedom is decaying from within? To address such questions seriously, we are compelled to go deeper and pose a philosophic question: what is the health of the free society? Is the free society always and everywhere improved by the presence of greater and greater freedom? Or does the flourishing of the free society depend on certain moral, cultural, religious, and intellectual foundations that we must constantly labor to renew if freedom is to survive and prove a blessing to us?
With a view to addressing these compelling questions, the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions and the Association for the Study of Free Institutions are pleased to announce a conference entitled “Taking the Measure of Where We Are Today.” The program includes scholars from a variety of disciplines in the social sciences and humanities. We seek to address a number of questions. What is the role of the law in upholding public morality, and is the law today properly fulfilling this function? What does the study of the liberal arts contribute to the vitality of the free society? To what extent are today’s universities succeeding in sustaining the best traditions of liberal arts education? What is the proper understanding of religious liberty in the free society, and are today’s free societies fully living up to this important principle? How does the advance of biomedical technology both support and threaten our aspirations to human freedom and human dignity? Finally, what kind of conservatism is best suited to address the challenges the free society faces in our time?