Young conservatives in DC apparently like intellectual stimulation in a lecture format, but then again the free beer might have been on more than a few minds.
Last Wednesday night, more than 80 young conservative intellectuals crowded into a back room of The Brickskeller on 22nd St, NW to listen to a professor talk about vocation, to eat and drink, and to meet their peers and colleagues.
It was the first meeting of “Conservatism on Tap” presented by the ISI (Intercollegiate Studies Institute) Young Alumni group of DC founded by Princeton graduate Evan Baehr.
The event was a success, with Baehr having to turn down people RSVPing too close to the event.
But the lecture presented by Professor Patrick J. Deneen of Georgetown University, was perhaps unusual both for its content and its setting.
Deneen, who is an Associate Professor of Government and a chair of Hellenic studies, began his remarks by saying that conservatives have trouble living like conservatives.
That is, they no longer grow up in a hometown and stay there and contribute to the good of a community throughout their lives, said Deneen.
Quoting Alexis de Toqueville, Deneen explained that what makes Americans different are laws of inheritance. With estates being broken up among heirs, people are no longer tied to a location like de Toqueville himself was.
“We are the opposite of traditional aristocratic conservatives,” said Deneen.
He [de Toqueville] saw that with this Americans were restless creatures and had the ability to be more mobile than people in other nations.
Youth grow up and eventually say “this sucks! I’m outta here,” said Deneen.
De Toqueville also noted that there was impermanence about American society, an anxiety about committing “too much too quickly,” Deneen explained.
According to Deneen, what all of these differences come down to is that Americans must work very hard to succeed [without traditional class status], they believe in perfectability, and in work they no longer think about vocation.
We talk about jobs, which means pieces, or career, which was from the word that meant what horses did around a race track, said Deneen.
But vocation comes from “vocare: to have a calling” which means it comes from outside of ourselves, the professor told the crowd. Belief in “calling” requires a presumption that we are parts of a whole, and that each in our own calling contributes to the common good.
Adam Smith relieved us all from our need to contribute to society by stating that pursuing our individual wants would be good for the whole, Deneen said.
“Smith represented a change in the understanding of the division of labor,” said Deneen, “but a tradition preceded it. The Biblical tradition is very different.”
After sharing the story of Cain and Abel’s offerings to God and Abel’s murder by Cain, Deneen concluded that self-interest is the default position.
1 Corinthians 12 is all about division of labor, said Deneen, and about how each person thinks that their gift is the best but that doesn’t make it true.
“It is the tendency of human beings to see the parts instead of the whole,” said Deneen, but “as parts we have to understand it is God’s way of showing us the whole.”
And in our age, the whole is much bigger than it used to be which means that our capacity for impact is very small, Deneen explained.
“So what constitutes the common good now?” asked the professor in concluding his remarks.
The next meeting of “Conservatism on Tap” will be on August 8 from 6 to 8pm at the Brickskeller to discuss “The Roberts Court.” It will feature William Saunders, a Senior Fellow from the Family Research Council. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions about that event.
Julia A. Seymour is a staff writer for Accuracy in Academia.