The Gift of TAC
For 20 years, we’ve believed conservatism to be the most natural political tendency.
When I returned from my tour of duty in Iraq in 2008, I had become deeply ambivalent about the mission there and, by extension, about politics in general. The bright vision that had been proffered by the conservative elites of spreading democracy throughout the Middle East now seemed misguided at best, based on flawed assumptions about the sources and preconditions for constitutional order.
To make matters worse, the economy was heading into the biggest recession in decades, brought on by financialization and reckless speculation.
I found myself searching for answers:
How could things have gone so wrong in American political life?
From foreign policy, to economic policy, to social policy, I could not shake the sense that our politics were out of order. And, while I had spent my undergraduate years studying political science at a major state university—the University of Delaware—I did not feel that it had equipped me to even ask the correct questions about what I was sensing, much less to seek out satisfactory answers.
So, I decided to put my G.I. Bill to work, first studying the Great Books of the Western canon at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, and then going on for a Ph.D. in political theory at the Catholic University of America. Reading Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Thomas More (on whom I would write my dissertation), and so many others, put me in touch with the intellectual resources in our great tradition and helped me to see behind the headlines to the deeper dynamics lying behind the political debates of the moment.
And it was during this time that I discovered The American Conservative.
I was instantly hooked. Here was an intelligent publication deeply rooted in traditions of Western political thought and committed to recovering a genuine conservatism, focused on the values that sustain America’s Main Streets: prudence, limits, solidarity, civic duty, beauty in the built environment, and a humane economy.
TAC’s “Main Street” sensibilities resonated with my small-town upbringing, even as its smart—even, at times, philosophic—approach satisfied my intellectual curiosity.
It was in the pages of The American Conservative that I first encountered (or encountered references to) numerous thinkers that would shape my own intellectual development, from Russell Kirk to Robert Nisbet, Patrick Deneen to Daniel Mahoney, T.S. Eliot to Roger Scruton, and too many more to name.
I am proud to say that I now serve as the senior director for programs for the American Ideas Institute, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit that publishes The American Conservative.
While the magazine—and its digital counterpart at theamericanconservative.com—remains the primary project of the Institute, recent years have seen a dramatic increase in our other programmatic offerings: public lectures, panel discussions, and our signature Constitutional Fellows Program.
Aristotle teaches us that human beings are political because we are rational. Unlike nonrational animals, human beings have the capacity for speech, which enables us to engage in dialogue about the true, the good, and the beautiful. Speech reveals the true nature of these things.
While the written word is an important aspect of speech, it is limited. As Plato notes in the Phaedrus, written words cannot address individual persons, but instead “go on telling just the same thing forever.”
It is ultimately in face-to-face interaction that true human community is sustained because it is only there that human persons are addressed as persons.
In this sense, our programs enhance the reach of the magazine, serving to move the conversation beyond our pages by creating opportunities for the in-person encounters that underpin real human community and genuine political discourse.
The Constitutional Fellows Program brings together policy professionals—Congressional and non-profit staffers, journalists, and others—and leading conservative thinkers to examine the historical, philosophical, and moral prerequisites for American constitutionalism and self-government through carefully selected readings and rigorous in-person meetings.
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Our numerous events each year serve to highlight a wide range of important issues and perspectives and bring the general public together with thinkers and policymakers who are driving the conversation. And, with an increasing presence on college campuses, we are taking our message directly to America’s future leaders.
The American Conservative has never been more important than it is at the current moment. As the American conservative movement debates the future, we aim to be the place where those ideas are discussed—both in print and in person.
As you make your year-end charitable gifts, please consider a tax-deductible donation to The American Conservative in support of all our programs. Our aim is to build a movement—and a community. I hope you will join us.