Notable Catholic political philosopher and professor Robert P. George warned conservatives and progressives alike about labeling their ideological foes as “a bunch of monsters.”
George was one of two keynote speakers Wednesday at an event held at the Museum of the Bible titled, “Cornel West and Robert P. George: On Honesty and Courage in a Time of Polarization.”
George, who delivered his remarks remotely, talked about the importance of “honesty and courage” in advancing civility, as encouraged people “to treat even our adversaries as precious members of the human family.”
“There are reasonable people of goodwill who do not share even some of our deepest, most cherished beliefs. This is true for Christians like ourselves or members of other traditions of faith, as well as for religious skeptics,” George said.
“It does take courage to recognize what so few on either side of our polarized politics today are willing to acknowledge, and that is that the people on the other side aren’t all a bunch of monsters.”
Noting that “there are reasonable people of goodwill who see it differently than we do,” George cautioned that this recognition doesn't mean that a person has to change their beliefs, per se.
“That doesn’t mean we have to suddenly flip and conform our opinions to theirs, that would be ridiculous; but it does mean being willing to be open to argument, to challenge, and it does mean trying to understand,” George added.
During the question and answer session, George said he teaches theories and scholars he doesn't agree with because he still believes things can be learned.
“I am a critic of critical theory, but I teach critical theory,” he said, regarding the controversial views that were recently removed from federal agencies by the Trump administration.
“As critical as I am of figures like Gramsci, Horkheimer, Adorno, especially Marcuse, nevertheless I think they are worth teaching because one learns from them.”
Cornel West, a progressive philosopher, activist, author and professor at Harvard University, also gave remarks virtually for the Museum of the Bible event.
West discussed the importance of loving enemies, noting that “even the biggest gangsters among us” know to show “tender loving care” for those they care about, like family members.
“I try to remind people of that in terms of brother Trump himself,” said West. “What looks like so often he just doesn’t have this love, and he doesn’t have this empathy, doesn’t have this concern, doesn’t have this sensitivity.”
“Yes, I believe there is a lot of evidence for that. That’s why I have called him a ‘gangster.’ But I was a gangster before I met Jesus, and now I am a redeemed sinner with gangster proclivities. Because he, like me, made in the image of the same God and therefore has the possibility of going another way.”
In addition to West and George, the event also featured remarks from professor Cheryl Sanders of the Howard University School of Divinity, and Institute on Religion & Democracy President Mark Tooley. Jacqueline Rivers, director of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies, gave introductory remarks.
Rivers noted that while West and George come from “very different perspectives” politically, they share a “very warm friendship” and are fellow Christians.
The inspiration for the event came from a column co-authored by West and George published in July by The Boston Globe titled, “To unite the country, we need honesty and courage.”
“We need the honesty and courage to speak the truth — including painful truths that unsettle not only our foes but also our friends and, most especially, ourselves,” they wrote.
“We need the honesty and courage to recognize the faults, flaws, and failings of even the greatest of our heroes — and to acknowledge our own faults, flaws, and failings.”