It probably should not have been a surprise when, affirming that the attorneys general of Washington and Minnesota had legal standing to challenge the Trump administration’s executive order on immigration, the Ninth Circuit panel pointed to the international dimensions of the University of Washington’s and the University of Minnesota’s activities to argue for a “concrete and particularized injury” from the order. Especially not to me—for back in the day, and indeed for eight wonderful years, I was an international student, lending my own zestful and idiosyncratic brand of cosmopolitan diversity to students and colleagues at the University of Toronto. (If I hadn’t been there to explain Ronald Reagan to them, they never would have understood.)
The truth is that all of our great universities, in the United States and abroad—understanding “our” in a sense that will be clear soon enough—are international.
Now that Donald Trump is their presumptive nominee, elected officials within the Republican Party are faced with the difficult question of how they should respond. Some are saying it isn’t at all difficult—the people have spoken, by golly!—but I beg to differ. It’s a genuinely hard political question that ought to be framed by philosophical, institutional, and constitutional considerations.
I spend the better part of my professional life teaching “Great Books.” This semester’s lineup so far has included Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Second Discourse (1775), Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), John Milton’s Areopagitica (1644), John Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration (1689), and Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince (1532). I’m committed to the proposition that these old books continue to speak to us, if only we have ears to hear.
My students don’t always agree, but they really perked up when I speculated about how Adam Smith would approach the phenomenon—the yuuge phenomenon—of Donald Trump.
After seeing so many utilitarian and, to be honest, philistine political comments about higher education and culture—the most recent came from Jeb Bush—it was in a sense refreshing to read President Obama’s exchange with novelist Marilynne Robinson, presented in two parts in the New York Review of Books. (Readers of this site should not neglect Paul Seaton’s very fine reflection on Robinson’s collection of essays that provides the context for her conversation with the President.)
One of the most striking things the President said was this:
Talk about a teachable moment: I couldn’t believe it when I found a reference to “natural law” in a Washington Post article about Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis’ ill-fated conscientious objection to our new marriage regime. I couldn’t resist taking it to my students, all sophomores in a core class where we’re currently reading and discussing John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government.