Robert P. George's 'Making Men Moral': A 30th Anniversary Conference


The first book in the storied career of one of the most influential conservative legal scholars and philosophers of our day is the focus of an upcoming conference in Washington, DC. Making Men Moral (1993) is the book and Robert P. George is the man behind it—Princeton professor of jurisprudence, bioethicist and pro-life and civil liberties champion. Scheduled speakers include some of the most important thinkers on social conservatism and legal thought of the generations he has molded, plus many of his peers and George himself. This conference is our focus for today.

As the founder and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University since 2000, George has provided a model for a slew of similar programs, centers and institutes throughout American academia and abroad. He is also a noted public speaker, often in partnership with his good friend the African-American scholar, Cornel West.

Because of George’s outsized role in public discussion of moral issues and his unique position as a stalwart Christian voice and admired scholar in the heavily secular academe of our time, rather than interview the author of a book today I will be chatting with one of the organizers of Making Men Moral: 30th Anniversary Conference. This event is co-sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Ethics & Public Policy Center, Pepperdine University School of Public Policy, and the Project on Constitutional Originalism and the Catholic Intellectual Tradition at Catholic University.

And luckily for those unable to attend in person the event at AEI in Washington, DC Thursday, November 30, 2023 | 12:00 PM to 5:30 PM ET and Friday, December 1, 2023 | 9:00 AM to 5:15 PM ET, they can register to follow the proceedings live online for free.

This is a welcome opportunity to learn about one of the most important books in the fields of moral philosophy, the philosophy of law, and natural law of the last 30 years.

For decades, George’s Making Men Moral: Civil Liberties and Public Morality has been the go-to text for legal scholars, political theorists, philosophers and educated readers who want to grasp what types of human vice and folly can be legitimately regulated, what the relationship is between morals legislation and freedom, what is owed by the individual to the ordering of society, and what falls under the protection of privacy or basic civil liberties legal regimes.

Given the rise in the decades since its publication of such social ills as rampant (and increasingly public) drug use, abortion tourism and an ever-expanding plague of libertarianism that is hardly distinguishable from libertinism, the case George makes in the book for the acceptability of and need for morals legislation has become ever more relevant. It is, moreover, a powerful argument against the curtailment of free speech and religious freedom that would be the ultimate result of the concept of “neutrality” in the public square, as advocated by John Rawls.

The book is a masterwork of clear writing and of fair presentation of contrary arguments and gentlemanly but devastating rebuttals. Its workmanlike dissection of Rawlsian thinking and like schools of thought alone is worth the price of the book and the time devoted to reading it—and hearing major scholars discuss its impact on their own intellectual development and teaching will be enlightening and entertaining.

The conference features leading lights in the conservative legal firmament such as our guest today--J. Joel Alicea an associate professor at the Columbus School of Law of the Catholic University of America, Sherif Girgis, Melissa Moschella and Professor George himself. It will also feature scholars in the fields of theology and religious learning such as Andrew T. Walker; bioethicists and legal scholars such as O. Carter Snead; luminaries in the field of natural law like Hadley Arkes; journalists such as Timothy P. Carney and Alexandra DeSanctis and notable social scientists such as Mark Regnerus and W. Bradford Wilcox.

The first day of the two-day conference will feature an interview of George by his fellow public intellectual and former student, Ryan T. Anderson.

Our guest today, Professor Alicea, will not only open the conference but will participate in a panel discussion entitled, “Making Men Moral and Constitutional Interpretation,” the title of which nicely encapsulates two of the many roles Robert P. George serves in the public sphere: George is both a powerful moral voice and a skillful, much loved professor at Princeton where he teaches a famous course on Constitutional Interpretation (the lectures of which were recorded and are available free online).

Let’s hear from Professor Alicea.

Hope J. Leman is a grants researcher.

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Hope J. Leman

Hope J. Leman is a grants researcher in the biomedical sciences. She is particularly interested in the subjects of natural law, religious liberty and history generally.

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