Liberal Learning: Open Minds and Open Debate with Cornel West & Robert George


– Good evening, at this
time of year, I always, we had a little debate
about whether it’s evening or afternoon at this time of year when it’s getting darker sooner. I never know quite what to say, but I’m gonna say good
evening to all of you. And welcome, my name is Maura Farrelly and I chair the American Studies Program here at Brandeis. Thank you. (audience applauding) And I actually used to work in front of a microphone all the time, but I’m not terribly
comfortable in front of one. So I’m gonna turn it over
to our President Liebowitz as soon as I can. But first I do need to say a few words about the people who made this possible. And then I’m just gonna tell you a little bit about the kind of format that we’re gonna have for the evening and then I’ll turn it over
to President Liebowitz who will introduce our guests. So to begin with, it pleases me beyond measure that we’ve had to use up
some of the extra seats. That means we have fantastic turnout. And it is due in no small part to the work that some of our
co-sponsoring departments and programs and institutes did for me. And so I do want to
mention them specifically. The Department of African
and African American Studies, the English department,
the Politics department, the Program in Religious Studies, The Schuster Institute for
Investigative Journalism and the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life. So thank you to all of those groups. And then also, this turnout
is a consequence of our Communications Office who
did a great deal of work at my request. And so I want to thank
you all for that as well. I have two alums whom I want to name. The first one is Sam
Weisman who got his Masters in Fine Arts from Brandeis in 1973. Mr. Weisman made an ongoing gift to the American Studies program. And that gift is the reason
we are going to be able to film this event this evening and then make it available online for a number of people
who have sent me emails. Some of them are Brandeis alums. One of them is a woman in Oregon, who is simply a fan of
you two, who emailed me and wondered if she’d be
able to watch it online. So thanks to that gift from Mr. Weisman we’re going to be able to do that. It’s my understanding also
that these lovely plants that Alissa Surrel has
made available for us are also as a consequence of that gift. And the plants are helping to make for a nice warm environment here. And then the second alum that I need to thank, and he is here. And I don’t know where he is. But his name is Mr. Kent Lawrence. He is the class of 1966. A friend of mine–
(audience applauding) Where is he? He’s over there, he’s
somewhere, he’s hiding over there he is, there he is. A friend of mine named Josh Bandock who was working for The
Institute for Humane Studies at the time put me in touch with Kent. And as a consequence of that, Kent generously funded
initially a supper club that we ran in the American
Studies program last year where I and seven students got together and we read some primary source documents from the American
founding and we had dinner at five restaurants in Waltham. And that’s how I got to know Kent. And then as a consequence
of the relationship that I was able to build with him and his generosity and his own commitment to liberal learning we
are now able to bring Professors George and
Professors West to Brandeis. So as far as the format is concerned, President Liebowitz is first
going to introduce our speakers and then they are going to speak to us and I imagine to one another for a little less than an hour or so. And then I may have a question for you, depending upon what it
is that you have to say. And then I will gladly take the mic and take advantage of the fact that I can ask my question. And then I’m gonna turn
it over to the audience. We have a microphone there and a microphone there. We are going to need to
end the event at 6:30. So if you are burning with a question, I urge you to get to that microphone as soon as possible, in an
orderly fashion, of course. And then, finally, I just wanted to say to everyone that what we’re going to be doing here tonight
is really performing what I believe, and I think many of you agree with me on this, we believe is one of the university’s most important functions, and that is we’re going to be serving as a forum for discussion. And a university is a place
where people come to learn. And learning requires us to challenge and be challenged by ideas. But in order to do that,
those ideas need to be heard. And we all need to be
given the opportunity then to apply our reason to those ideas. And so I, you know, I’m gonna ask everyone,
whatever your views are, on anything, and I mean on anything, please, let’s all remember
that we are an institution that is founded on the
values of academic rigor, inclusion and critical thinking, and that means that we all
do need to treat one another this evening and any evening at Brandeis with the courtesy and mutual respect that really is befitting
a community of scholars. And so with that, I’m
going to turn it over to our own scholar, Professor Liebowitz. (audience applauding)
– Thank you. Thank you, Maura. Thank you not only for that introduction but for taking the initiative to bring these two public intellectuals, who hardly need an introduction here, Professors George and West
together this afternoon for a lively discussion, we believe, about liberal learning,
open minds, and open debate. I can’t think of a more pressing issue or a more appropriate
place for this discussion than here at Brandeis and now. I wanna convey a special
thanks, as Maura did, to alumnus Kent Lawrence
for his deep commitment to Brandeis and his philanthropic support of this event as well
as his long-time support through the MR Bauer
Foundation of our Volen Center and our Summer Undergraduate
Research Fellowships. Kent, thank you, again. (audience applauding) We are all eager to hear from
Professors George and West, one who occupies the right
side of the political spectrum and the other who sits
opposite to the left. And so I don’t wanna take too much time away from the main event by advancing my own points of view. But I do wanna mention two things. First, after almost two years, and with the active engagement from many in the Brandeis community, the Board of Trustees, just last month, adopted six principles of free
speech and free expression as proposed by a special task
force on free expression. Those principles can be
found on Brandeis Now section of the university website and on the University President’s webpage. I recommend that you read my letter introducing those principles
and the principles themselves. They reflect, in my view, the purpose and historic role of the university as a place where the pursuit
of knowledge is paramount and a place where ideas and
opinions are freely offered, no matter how new,
controversial, unpopular, or even offensive they may be. And, second, as most of you know, our university motto is: Truth, even unto its innermost parts. Our devotion to the liberal
arts and to critical thinking often places uncomfortable conversations at the center of our
classrooms and at the heart of our mission. This afternoon, we will hear from two very principled thinkers, philosophers, who fundamentally disagree with
one another on many issues, but do so with civility
and mutual respect, and that I’m told with occasional humor and abiding friendship. As Justice Brandeis argued
nearly 100 years ago, the best antidote to speech
with which one disagrees is not less speech but rather more speech. So let me now welcome Cornel
West and Robert George up here to the podiums to engage in speech that informs, provokes, possibly makes us somewhat uncomfortable, but hopefully wiser as well. Gentlemen, please come forward. (audience applauding) – Well, thank you so
much, President Liebowitz. A great honor. I know I speak for
Cornel as well as myself in saying what an honor it is to be at this very distinguished institution. I, myself, am a lawyer and a
professor of jurisprudence. So it’s a special treat
to be at a university named for one of the truly great jurists of our nation’s history, Louis Brandeis. Also, I wanna add my thanks. And, again, I know I speak for Cornel as well as myself on
this, to Maura Farrelly and to Kent Lawrence for helping to make this event possible. We really appreciate all the work that you and your staff put into making today possible. Finally, I wanna say, and
here I will speak for myself, that it is always a
privilege and and honor to be in conversation with
my dear brother, Cornel West. We began teaching together
at Princeton in 2007. We celebrated our anniversary last year, our 10th anniversary. (audience and Cornel laughing) And I can tell you that nothing,
in my 34 years of teaching, has been more interesting and
exciting and thought provoking and fulfilling than teaching
with Brother Cornel. We have had the (chuckles) privilege of sitting together in small seminars, 18 students max, and discussing with them
the most important issues of human existence, the fundamental issues of meaning and value, and being provoked in our conversation by the great teachers of mankind. We typically begin with
Sophocles, perhaps The Antigone. We move on to dialogues from
Plato, perhaps and Aristotle. We look at thinkers from across the political
spectrum throughout history. We read Marx, but we read Hayek. We read Gramsci, but we read Leo Strauss. We read John Henry Newman,
but John Stuart Mill as well. And it’s just exhilarating
to be in that context and to learn as I have so much from Professor West. I also wanna say that
part of what makes it such a privilege to appear with Cornel is there’s simply nobody
who’s integrity I admire on any point in the political spectrum. This is simply not about politics. There is no one who’s
integrity I admire more than Cornel West. Cornel West is a truth seeker. I try to emulate him in that. Telling the truth as you see it. Seeking the truth. Knowing that it will always,
to some extent, elude us. But that it’s our obligation,
especially as scholars, but more fundamentally as human beings to be seeking the truth. And that’s what Cornel does. And it’s what he’s done through his entire distinguished career. So he’s been not only a friend but a role model for me in this. And I wanna thank you,
my brother, for that. – I thank you, my brother. – Now if you’ll excuse me for beginning my own formal presentation,
autobiographically, I wanna say a bit about
how I came to do what I do. I grew up in the hills of West Virginia. Both of my grandfathers were coal miners. My parents had not been to college. My father was drafted out of
high school, didn’t complete. They did send his parents a diploma, but he was drafted out of high school in his senior year to go to
Europe to fight in Normandy. So being brought up in
that sort of family, education was regarded as
a very important value, but mainly because it promised
socioeconomic advancement. It was through education
that one could rise in life. It was through education
that one could move into the professional
class, earn a good income, have greater status in the community. Now, by no means do I disdain
or derogate those things. The opportunity to be
educated and to achieve upward social mobility is a treasure. It’s an important value. It’s one that we would
do very well as a nation to attend more carefully to
and to attempt to restore and make available to more people. But what I was not
brought up understanding was truth as something worth pursuing just for its own sake, truth, knowledge, wisdom,
as things that one ought to pursue doggedly to its innermost parts for its inherent enrichments
of ourselves as persons, as human beings. That was simply not on the radar screen for me when I went off to
a liberal arts college. I went off to Swarthmore College where an event occurred in my life that was fundamentally transformative and has shaped my belief in and my conception of liberal learning. I’m gonna preach to you
a little bit about it, (chuckles) because I
believe in it so deeply and because you, who are students, have the opportunity to
pursue it here at Brandeis. And I hope that you will
let nothing deflect you from pursuing it. And there are things, very tempting things that can deflect you,
even here at Brandeis. Cornel and I are about disciples of Plato. Plato was the guy who asked
questions about everything, especially the most important
things, the deepest things, the most elusive things. The fundamental questions of existence and meaning and value. Someone who never could
find a way to rest content, fully content, with the answers, even the best answers, someone who was always
willing, who was driven whenever he thought he
had reached a conclusion, whenever he thought he was secure, to question even that conclusion, to question the premises of everything, not because he didn’t believe there was a truth to be sought, but precisely because he
wanted to know the truth and to embrace it, not simply as a set of propositions that one could affirm or deny,
but to appropriate the truth, integrate it into his
life as best he could. When I was a sophomore at Swarthmore, I encountered Plato for the first time in an otherwise pretty ordinary introductory course in political theory. It was a kinda Plato to NATO course. (audience and Cornel chuckle) Good teacher, all of our
teachers at Swarthmore are like your teachers at Brandeis, they’re all very good, dedicated to liberal arts ideals and wanting to expose
us, if I can use that wonderful line from Matthew Arnold, to the best that has
been thought and said. That’s what liberal
education is all about. And so he assigned to us
Plato’s dialogue, Gorgias. Now, if you know that dialogue, for those of you who
do know that dialogue, of course, Plato’s
interlocutors are as they almost always are, the sophists. Sophists have a very bad name. To call someone a sophist
is now highly pejorative. Sophistry is not something
that we should be engaging in. But the sophists were Plato’s, Socrates main interlocutors. In Gorgias himself, we
get a pretty nice sophist. He’s not a bad guy. He’s a guy who’s just in the business of teaching young Athenian men. And, of course, it was men who were given education in ancient Athens. They were young Athenian men of a certain social class. The skills in rhetoric which would enable them
to take their proper place in the community’s deliberations, to have status and standing,
and perhaps even celebrity, to be admired and liked and approved of. He taught people, these young men, to make arguments, to
be persuasive, to win. There’s nothing intrinsically
wrong with that. It’s what law professors do. But, of course, he disappears
from the scene rather quickly in the dialogue. And his own students and
disciples pick up the debate with Socrates. and we learn, were led, by Plato to see that argument for the sake of victory or argument simply to advance a cause that one has wrapped one’s
feelings and emotions around, or argument just for the sake of being somebody important or admired is, at the end of the day, empty. The real purpose of argument, the real value of
argument is truth seeking. And that’s because truth has
not merely instrumental value, not simply value in that
it makes it possible for you to get other things, rise up the socioeconomic
ladder, have standing and status, perhaps even
celebrity, be looked up to, be admired, advance a cause
one passionately believes in. Yes, truth can accomplish those things, and pursuit of truth,
knowledge, making arguments, can get you those things, but they are not what’s
fundamental and most important. It’s truth itself considered as something intrinsically valuable, intrinsically enriching of
ourselves as human beings. That’s the real thing the real good. Well, the light bulb went off over my head when I realized that everything I had
believed, up until that point, was what was being taught by the sophists, that knowledge, even truth seeking had its fundamental value
only instrumentally. It had never dawned on me. No one had ever told me. I’d never considered the possibility that truth seeking, truth in itself, was what the real goal was, that truth, just for its own sake is what really should motivate us, and not just when we’re scholars, it should motivate us as human beings. I realized, in other words, that I was on the wrong side of a very, very important debate that goes all the way
back to ancient Athens. And it’s a debate that has never ended. And it’s not a debate that pits
one class or group or tribe or clan or ethnicity against another. Within virtually any group
that we might consider, there are people who
are on the sophist side, and then a much smaller number of people who are on Plato’s side. But what I became convinced of is that I was on the wrong side and I needed to move onto Plato’s side. Little did I know the path
that that would put me on. It enabled me to discover
my personal vocation as a scholar. Growing up where I grew up, banjo in hand, literally, I’m a banjo,
five star in bluegrass. But they’re introduced
to little boys at birth in West Virginia. (audience laughing) The farthest thing from my mind was the possibility that I
would be a scholar, a professor, even a teacher. I mean, who would wanna be that? If I wanted to be anything, I
wanted to be a man of affairs, someone who made a
difference in the world, someone who’s looked up to,
someone who’s important. Who would wanna be a teacher, a professor? But sure enough, it put me on that path. But even more importantly
than the vocational path, it took me to places that I never dreamed I would go in my own thinking, because what Plato, that old Greek, forced me to do was to think, for the
first time in my life, about why I believed what I believed. I had a lot of beliefs. I suspect like you, too. We all do. I had a lot of beliefs, but I had never thought
about why I believed what I believed. I had never considered the
premises of my beliefs. I’d never subjected them to scrutiny. I’d been in lots of arguments. I was a debater, I won
prizes, things like that. I knew about arguing for victory, I knew how to do it. But I had never really examined
the premises of my belief. I had adopted beliefs
out of a kind of passion. They were either what I
thought right-thinking people should believe, or what
I was taught to believe, or what I absorbed from
my ambient culture. I’d never subjected my
beliefs to criticism. I didn’t know why I should. Now I did. Plato forced me to do that. And guess what happens when you start to, you’ve all had the experience. When you start to subject
your beliefs to scrutiny, you realize they don’t all
hold up (chuckles) so well. And if you really adopt
the platonic attitude, which is a lifelong project, and what you’re always
backsliding away from and you need to correct yourself, but once you adopt that attitude, you’re like Socrates,
you’re never fully content with where you are on anything. Wherever you are, your spirit is a spirit of self-criticism. You wanna subject your
beliefs to renewed scrutiny. You may believe in what you
believe in passionately, but that little, the Greeks
would’ve called it the daimon, sometimes translated,
unfortunately, as demon, maybe not so unfortunately. (laughs) That little demon is
telling you, “No, no, no, “don’t get to comfortable
with that belief. “Don’t settle in.” Yes, you can act on that belief, even passionately on that belief. And you might be right, but you might be wrong. You see, the position I found myself in when I was confronted by Plato was a guy with a lot of beliefs, but they were beliefs
I wasn’t entitled to. Now you might say, well, of course, everyone’s entitled to their beliefs, of course you were
entitled to your beliefs. And in a sense, that’s right. I mean, I had a First Amendment right that the government not force
me to change my beliefs. I was entitled to my
beliefs in that sense, but in a more basic sense, I wasn’t entitled to my beliefs because I hadn’t earned them. I hadn’t earned the right
to believe what I believed, because I had never subjected
my beliefs to scrutiny. I hadn’t reasoned my way to my beliefs. And so suddenly I realized, and it really was sudden, like the light bulb
going off over the head, suddenly realized I’ve got to think my way into whatever it is I’m going to believe and some of my beliefs changed, not all, some remained the same, but they were all subjected to scrutiny. And that’s a continuing, and
as I say, lifelong project. And what that also revealed to me is the real value of
liberal arts education. And here I’m gonna get really preachy, because we are losing our
sense of the real value of liberal arts education, even in institutions like
Swarthmore and Brandeis and Princeton and Harvard that have long traditions
and formal great commitments to a liberal arts education. So how is liberal arts education defended? Today, well, often it’s not defended. Often, we’re willing to give
up liberal arts education, even liberal arts institutions, sometimes under the pressure
of economic circumstances. Liberal arts education is a
luxury, some colleges say, we can no longer afford. Students demand and parents demand that we train students in vocations. We might still call ourselves
a liberal arts institution, but the liberal arts departments
become service departments for fulfilling distribution requirements. And suddenly the majority of majors are no longer in liberal arts subjects, they’re in vocational fields
so that people can get jobs. I understand the economic
reasons for that, but I really think that those
institutions, like Brandeis and Swarthmore and Princeton and Harvard, that can afford to resist
that should resist that, because we do have on
offer something available, something far more valuable
for our young people and that is true liberal arts learning. So when liberal arts
education is defended today, often it’s defended, in a
certain sense, pragmatically, so we say, for example. Well, the real value of
liberal arts education is that it teaches our students
to be critical thinkers. And because they’re critical thinkers they’re gonna be able to go out and get really good jobs. If you talk to business executives, you go to the folks at Google, you go to the folks at Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Microsoft, they don’t want all their
execs to be technically trained or have business degrees or
computer science degrees. Those are all fine disciplines. If that’s your major, God bless you, I have no problem with that. (audience laughing) There’s a place for it. But executives will say, “We want people who have studied history. “Even if they didn’t major in it, “we want students who’ve
studied history and philosophy “and pure science “and literature, because
they’re great critical thinkers, “they’re creative.” And, look, I’m sure it’s true. I mean, every executive
I talk to tells me that. So I have no reason to doubt it. I’m sure that’s true. And does seem to be true of
liberally educated people that they’re good critical thinkers. But that, in a certain sense, is also to lose track of the real value of liberal arts learning, because, again, it instrumentalizes it. No, it’s fine, I want
everybody to get a great job. And if your future, if your
vocation is with Google and Microsoft and Goldman
Sachs and Morgan Stanley, God bless you, that’s fine, too. But that’s not what a Brandeis education, or a Swarthmore education,
should be giving you at the most basic and
most important level. It should be teaching
you to be a truth seeker, and a truth seeker about
fundamental questions of existance and meaning and value. It should cause you to be
wrestling with those questions all the time. It should launch you
on the lifelong project of wrestling with those questions. It should make your life
really uncomfortable. I love to quote Cornel
who says to our students in our courses together, “The whole point of
our being here with you “is to unsettle you and
to unsettle each other.” It’s unsettling, wrestling
with the great questions of meaning and value are unsettling. And when you adopt that
Socratic interrogatory attitude, you do not know where you’re
going to end up on anything. You don’t know what your
views will end up being, because you’re gonna be
willing to subject your views about politics, about
religion, about morality, all those great existential
things, meaning, value, to question with an open mind. Now, look, it’s hard to do. And it does take a couple of virtues that I think it should be the business of liberal arts institutions
to inculcate, Mr. President, one of those virtues is
intellectual humility. You cannot adopt to the Socratic attitude if you think you’re infallible. You just can’t. You have to recognize
your own fallibility, you have to recognize
that, “I could be wrong.” Not just formally and officially. If I ask everybody in this
room, “Could you be wrong?” Everyone would raise their
their hand, say, “Of course.” Notionally, we all get
it, we could be wrong. Existentially, it’s harder. It’s harder to really have the virtue of intellectual humility,
recognize ones own fallibility, that one might be wrong even about stuff that one thinks is
really, really important. So that is a virtue. And it doesn’t just fall
down from the heavens. How are virtues acquired? Virtues are habits. They’re acquired by the
practice of doing it, what Alasdair MacIntyre
calls the practice. And institutions can foster or
fail to foster that practice. And if institutions are gonna be true to the liberal arts ideal, they have to foster that virtue. And there’s another virtue. And that’s the virtue of courage. You can’t be Socratic without it. And not because someone’s
gonna make you drink hemlock, though, who knows. (audience chuckling) the person you have to be
courageous toward is yourself. It takes courage to
confront the possibility that I might have to change, might have to change
what I think, what I do. And that’s because there’s
something interesting about us human beings. We are rational, we have reason, but we also have feeling and emotion. And getting reason and feeling and emotion in the right order is part of the project. Plato talked about this quite explicitly. In fact, in one way or another, all of the great thinkers of history have talked about the importance of ordering the soul, to use
Plato’s language correctly, so that reason is in charge
and passion and emotion are under the control of reason. The problem is that we human beings, since we’re emotional, effective, as well as intellectual, rational, tend to wrap our emotions more or less tightly around our convictions. We just do. And I don’t care who you are, you do. And it’s a challenge, therefore, to avoid falling into dogmatism. Liberal learning means open minds. I like the title that
Professor Farrelly attached to today’s discussion. It really does mean open minds. But to open the mind, one
can’t wrap the emotions too tightly around the convictions. If we wrap the emotions too
tightly around the convictions, we can never unwrap. And that means we fall into dogmatism. That’s the enemy of the
Socratic attitude, dogmatism. And we easily do fall into it. Now, that’s not to say
that we should adopt a strict stoic attitude of
trying to eliminate emotion. I say that for a principle reason. If we didn’t wrap our
emotions to some extent around our convictions, we
would never be motivated to act for what we believe in, for our religious faith,
or our moral convictions or political views, or for
causes that we think are just, or even outside from those
sorts of normative areas, to pursue ones vocation. If you’re not pursing your
vocation passionately, whatever your vocation is, if you’re not pursuing it passionately you’re probably not gonna accomplish what it would be good accomplish. So we do need that oomph that’s provided by the affective aspect of ourselves as human beings. But, again, we need to be careful. If we warp to tightly,
we become dogmatists. If we get it right, one of Louis Brandeis’s
famous interlocutors, the jurist Learned Hand, famously said that the spirit of Republican government is the spirit of not being
too sure that you’re right. What he said about Republican government can also be said about truth, about the intellectual mission, vocation of scholarship, for example. The spirit of truth seeking is the spirit of not being
too sure that you’re right. Now, that doesn’t mean, again, stoicism, it doesn’t mean not acting
on your convictions. I mean, gosh, Brother
West and I are notorious for acting on our convictions. But we don’t want to fall into dogmatism. We don’t want to abandon
the self-critical project. And I think this is something presently what’s that
institutions like Brandeis and like Swarthmore and like
Princeton and like Harvard really need to keep very
much in the forefront of our minds institutionally as we’re designing our programs. I was interested to hear
about the new speech norms and so forth that you
promulgated, they sound great. But remember why we’re doing it, why you have those norms. We have similar norms at Princeton. We have them not as some abstract right, everybody gets to say what they want, everybody gets to think what they want. They’re not what John Stuart
Mill called an abstract right, they’re ordered to a good, they’re ordered to a thinG worth having, and that is truth seeking. Why do we want open minds? Why do we want freedom of speech? Why do we want conversation like these? We want them because we’ve got a goal that they will bring us
nearer and nearer to, never perfectly, we
never have all the truth. We can never be too sure
of anything we’ve got in this area, but we have
these norms and convictions. And we cultivate these virtues in ourselves and in our
students in order to get as close as we can to the
truth, as fully as we can to the truth. Brother West and I put out a statement a little more than a year ago, I think, called Truth Seeking, Democracy,
and Freedom of Thought and Expression. And it was really a plea to people, and not just in universities, because our public civic
wheel requires this as well, it was a plea to try to do
business in our universities and in our public life
in the proper currency of truth seeking discourse. That is, giving reasons,
providing evidence, making arguments, avoiding all the things that can lead us astray, you know, the demagoguery,
the manipulation, the sliding things by, the sophistry that has always affected the human spirit. And to some extent, all of
us fall into a need to then constantly be dragging
ourselves back out of. But it is worth it. When we do it, we do need courage, because it means we’re getting on a train not knowing the destination. We’re getting on a train not knowing where we’re going to be, or in a certain sense,
who we’re going to be, when we step off the train. We may go in thinking, “This is me.” But at the end of the journey, or at any point along the way, think, “Gee, I’ve really changed. “I’ve experienced a transformation. “I’m not quite where I was. “I might be very distant from where I was “in any direction.” So the liberal arts ideal, don’t let it be lost. Certainly don’t let it be lost at Brandeis in the hearts of your
teachers, your faculty, or in the hearts of your students. Cultivate those virtues. Organize, orient, everything that we do toward those goals. Yes, it’s important that our young people be
properly prepared for jobs, that they have passionate convictions, that they be willing to fight for things that they believe in. But even more fundamentally
than those things, they need to be truth seekers,
lifelong truth seekers. End of sermon. – Mm-hm, mm-hm. (audience applauding) Oh, that’s (drowned by applause). Let me say that I am blessed to be here and return to Brandeis. I think it was just a year ago we were here together, though, saluting
the great Ambedkar, dalit, public intellectual, freedom fighter. Brandeis is the first
university to provide a space to acknowledge his tremendous witness. I want to begin by
saluting my dear brother, the captain of the ship, Ron Liebowitz, we appreciate your work
and witness already. Similarly so for my dear sister and professor, Maura Farrelly. Where you at, sister, I don’t know where she is. But I don’t wanna forget her. She plays a very important role indeed. But when I think of Brandeis,
I think of consecrated space. I think of the time that I was able to be so deeply shaped by some of the towering
figures whose presence graced this place of Herbert
Marcuse and Angela Davis and Irving Howe and Michael Walzer, Carlos Brossard, who’s
head of Black Studies. We used to meet every Sunday right here at Brandeis,
reading Marx and Lenin. We didn’t get to Mao, though. (audience laughing) It kinda held off on Stalin
and Mao, the gangster. (audience laughing) But we were reading Marx
and Lenin and Lukács, and Antonio Gramsci and others. So when I think of Brandeis, I think of that kind of
rich intellectual tradition. And when I can return and
I see my very dear brother for the first time in the flesh, who’s written magisterial
biographical volumes on probably the greatest prophetic figure of the balberic 20th Century, from the Jewish side of town,
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. And I’m talking about
Professor Edward Kaplan. Where is Brother Kaplan? Where is he? Stand up, stand up,
though, brother, stand up. (audience applauding) Stand up. This brother played a fundamental role in keeping alive not
just liberal learning, but the rich prophetic legacy of Jerusalem and the ways in which it’s intertwined with the Socratic legacy of Athens and then onto he writes on
Martin Luther King, Jr., he writes on Howard Thurman,
he writes on Thomas Merton, he writes on a whole host,
Dorothy Days and others, those who have set the highest levels of spiritual and moral arete
of excellence in that regard. I would say the same thing about my dear sister
professor, Anita Hill. Just to sit here and look at her. (audience applauding)
Oh, yes. It’s not just the brilliance, but that rare thing, that intangible thing called dignity, called magnanimity, standing in the midst of a storm and doing it in such a way that it’s still illuminating and inspiring without bringing attention to herself, but providing a way of
sustaining all of us in such bleak times. That’s exactly what I see
when I see on my dear sister. She’s Brandeis, too.
(audience applauding) She’s Brandeis, too. She’s part of Brandeis, too. Then when I have my dear brother here, anytime we get together,
we have a good time. (audience laughing) It’s true, we’ve been in the hood in Dallas together.
(Robert drowned by Cornel) With Erykah Badu’s kids in the school. (audience laughing)
You see, oh, indeed, indeed. We’ve been at the Air Force Academy. And you see, I’m a Christian,
and therefore always put the flag under the cross. So anytime I go into a
highly patriotic space, I appreciate the flag, I appreciate the Air Force. But here comes Amos, Jeremiah,
Esther and Jesus for me. And therefore it’s always good to be with my dear brother who
can help me make it through. And we had a magnificent time, didn’t we? – We did indeed.
– Air Force Academy. So we go different, I mean, there’s been so many other places. But the important thing is is that we go as persons who love each other. I love this brother. Love is never to be reduced to politics. Friendship is never to be reduced to whether you agree on policy. There’s something called
your rich humanity that allows you to
revel in the personality and the individuality of another person even though I think he’s wrong. (audience laughing) On a number of issues. He teaches me, I teach him. We don’t lose ourselves in
some homogenous kumbaya union. No, we acknowledge our differences. We acknowledge the ways in
which we might look at the world through different lens and yet we can still be mutually empowered and allow for our
families to come together, his precious wife and children, my precious family, and to be able to play his guitar and I sing, out of tune, but I’m still singing. (audience laughing) We’ve done that in class. – [Robert] We have done it. – We’ve done it in class. – [Robert] Spontaneously. – Just spontaneous, pull out the banjo. And, you see, he’s from the vanilla bluegrass section of America. (audience laughing) And I’m from gut-bucket black
Aretha Franklin shapin’, (Robert laughing) Donny Hathaway loving
chocolate side of town. (audience laughing) But our love and our
friendship are genuine. And I say that because at
this particular moment, as this empire that we live in undergoes such decay and decline, a spiritual, call it blackout or whiteout, depends on what part of town you’re from, a spiritual blackout,
a spiritual whiteout, the eclipse of integrity,
honesty, decency, generosity, the accenting of greed, manipulation, domination, conquest, all talk about power, power, power, power. No, the great breakthrough of the Greeks with pytho, persuasion. Persuasion, the world comes into existence in Plato’s Timaeus, by
means of persuasion, by means of trying to give reasons, left wing reasons, centralis reason, right wing reasons, conservative reasons, liberal reasons, trying to engage in a public conversation, where
we can enter in such a way that we’re not humiliated,
we are not disrespected, but we learn how to listen to one another. We learn how to learn from one another. We learn how to be unnerved
and unhoused and unsettled by one another. That is the great legacy
of the best of Brandeis. 1948, hated and despised,
persecuted and oppressed peoples, holding on the (mumbles) for dear life, holding on the steadfast love, holding on the loving kindness, still trying to spread it to the fatherless and the motherless, the vulnerable and the weak, and, yet, being so viciously attacked, the pogroms on the one hand,
and showa on the other, but still not allowing even that despair to have the last word. We’re gonna envision a
university where it’s Jewish in its origins and character. It is universal in its embrace
of the quest for truth. But Marc Coons who used
to say here at Brandeis, you talk about truth all you want, but a condition of truth is
to allow suffering to speak, to allow suffering to speak. You begin with the
suffering of those you love in your own family, your own
community, your own group and it spills over the
suffering of all of humanity, even the suffering of sentient beings, all of the kinds of suffering
that drove Nietzsche mad, the pain, the cruelty, the domination, the oppression, the subjugation. So when we’re talking
about liberal learning, this is not some abstract construct of a bureaucrat and a
professional managerial site called a university
trying to preserve itself, we’re talking about the
best of the species, because most of our
history has been a history of hatred and envy and
contempt and domination. And democracies are
simply these disruptions trying to create spaces
in which maybe you could arrest the hatred, arrest the contempt, arrest the domination,
arrest the exploitation, and provide individually and existentially spaces in which there’s
kindness and gentleness and larger spaces where
there’s justice in rule of law, but a rule of law that
does not hide and conceal the various arbitrary uses of power in its own name, because I come from a people
who’ve been terrorized for 400 years in the name of rule of law, and yet we still teach the
world so much about freedom. Fredrick Douglass was no joke. Sojourner Truth was no joke. People who’ve been
traumatized for 400 years teach the world so much about healing in the music, in the
arts, in the friendships. Hated for 400 years and teach the world so much about love and how to love. Brother Robert and I just
turn it on Love Supreme (audience laughing)
with John Coltrane. I listen to a little Stevie Wonder, Love in the Need of Love, you see. They were love warriors. And that’s precisely
what, at the human level, at the deep level of love and friendship, brings us together as we wrestle with the role of the market,
vis-a-vis, larger society. I am a revolutionary Christian. He is a Christian. (Robert and audience laughing) He’s a disciple of Plato. We are close followers
of a Jew named Jesus. There’s no Jesus without
prophetic Judaism. My Christianity is a rich
footnote to prophetic Judaism, rich footnote, very rich. (audience laughing) But there’s no footnote without that rich infrastructure that’s in place. But at the same time, we
wrestle with same-sex marriage, we wrestle with abortion, we wrestled with a whole host of issues. We come together on a
variety of different issues. We’re fighting against poverty, we’re defending religious liberty. We are defending freedom of expression, freedom of opinion. Rush Limbaugh has a right
to be thoroughly wrong. (audience laughing) I defend that right. It is not just with utilitarian because I want my right. No, because to create a context in which people are able
to enter public space and be able to be vulnerable enough to follow the negro national anthem of a hated people, but
love driven at our best, lift every voice. And that lift every voice doesn’t mean it has to be filtered, it has to be checked, no. Lift your voice, find out who you are. But at the same time, like a jazz musician or a blues artist, you better find your voice. Don’t be an echo. Don’t be a copy, be an original. Don’t be a similac or a semblance, be what Ashford and Simpson
called the real thing. What I love about this brother, he is the real thing, as
a conservative brother, which means, like Malcolm X, he says what he means,
he means what he says. That’s very important. I got a whole lot of liberal
and neo-liberal friends who I love dearly, but they don’t say what they
mean and mean what they say. (audience chuckling) No, too many of them
like to say one thing, do something else, act as if somehow they’re in solidarity, but when it’s time to show up, they gotta go to a tea party. (audience laughing) I’m not talking about
anybody in this room, but I’m just talking about there are some. Liberals, and they’re all liberals. That’s one of the reasons
why I get in trouble so much with my liberals and
Democratic Party folk, because it’s a question
of are you going to be honest with yourself and echo that line, 24A of Plato’s Apology,
the unexamined life is not worth the living. And then that line, 24A, the cause of my unpopularity is parrhesia, P-A-R-R-H-E-S-I-A.
– Frank speech. – Frank speech, playing speech, unintimidated speech, fearless speech. Again, that’s what we love
about Brother Malcolm, my Muslim brother. Malcolm engaged in frank speech. When he said white brothers
and sisters are devils, he meant it. He changed his mind, “I was wrong. “They’re not devils. “Many of them engaged
in devilish behavior, “but they’re not devils.” He said it again, “I
was wrong, I meant it.” That’s the kind of product
paideia , P-A-I-D-E-I-A, of deep education, not cheap schooling. Now, Malcolm got paideia
in Norfolk State Prison. Some folk are lucky to go to Brandeis. James Baldwin used to say, “I didn’t go to college, “but a college went through me.” Brandeis students graduate. It’s not gonna be a question of whether you went to Brandeis. Does the best of Brandeis go through you? ‘Cause if the best of
Brandeis went through you, you were not just unsettled, but you learned how to die. And that’s what we also tell our students. I just told my students just last week in my lecture on Nietzsche at Harvard, “I’m so glad you all showed up “to learn how to die.” (audience laughing) ‘Cause you have to learn how to die in order to learn how to live. And to learn how to die is to critically examine your assumptions and presuppositions, and
when you give some of ’em up, that’s a form of death. And there is no life without death. There is no maturity, no
growth, no development without giving up certain dogma, giving up certain doctrine, giving up certain assumptions, giving up certain presuppositions in that process of learning how to die in order to learn how to live well. It’s crucial. It’s fundamental, not just for our development as human beings, but for any possibility
of freedom and democracy. Not just at name, freedom and democracy, the actual concrete practice of it to produce democratic personalities, democratic soul crafts. See, the dominant soul craft these days is neo-liberal soul craft. It’s about being smart, it’s being rich, and when you have foreign policy
challenges dropping bombs. And one of the things we
know about smartness is what? Gangsters could be smart,
Nazis can be smart, white supremacists can be smart, misogynists can be smart. Homophobes can be smart. But when you really cut deeper and allow for that compassion and wisdom to play a role, then you’re not just impressed
by the smartest person in the room. Let the phones be smart. You better be something deeper. And that deeper is precisely what the best of liberal learning is all about, which is this formation of attention. What are you attending to? Superficial things are substantive things. Status, power, honor,
integrity, honesty, decency. It’s about the cultivation
of a critical self, acknowledging no one of
us have any possession of truth, capital T, goodness, capital G, beauty, capital B. And I’m a Christian, so I’ll include (speaks in
a foreign language), God. Or if you’re polytheistic, gods. No one of us has fallen,
fallible human beings, have access to full possession of those. That’s that intellectual humility that Brother Robbie’s
rightly talking about. But if you confused, if we confuse, attending to the things that matter, Simone Weil had a beautiful nation of the formation of attention, as the fundamental form of education. In these days, who gets
the attention of most of our fellow citizens, cross generation? It’s not the best, it’s not the wisest, it’s not the most loving. It’s those obsessed with
either the money-making, the getting over or the obsession with 11th Commandment,
thou shall not get caught. (audience chuckling) Pretty pervasive, not
just on the business page, but you can start there. It’s in every institution,
mosques, synagogues, church, trade union,
right across the board. That’s the spiritual blackout
that we’re talking about. But that last pillar, and we’re gonna go back and forth and open it up, has to do with the maturation
of a compassionate soul, the maturation of a compassionate soul, because maturity is something that doesn’t come by means of osmosis. You got to fight for it. Goethe says he had to
reconquer himself every day of his fallacy, he’s right. How do you become a mature person so that you’re able to
step into ambiguity, step into the inconclusive, step into the ineffable
and still be able to stand with a vision and a conviction that you’re willing to live for and maybe even die for. That’s what I appreciate
about the Air Force folk, because they’re ready to die. They don’t have a commercial spirit, they have a Marshall spirit. William James wrote that last essay, next to the last essay, before he died called the Moral Equivalent of War. He said how do you create folk who have a Marshall spirit, having the courage to
love and courage to hope, and courage to think
critically for themselves? You can’t sustain a democracy without it. That’s one of the reasons
why we’re spinning, sliding down a slope of chaos
and hatred and contempt. And it’s not just Brother Trump. (mumbles) “Trump your brother?” Yeah, that’s right, yes, he is my brother. He’s a gangster, but he’s also a brother. (audience laughing) I say gangster, that’s
an objective condition, that’s not a subjective expression. (audience laughing) Grabbing women’s privates
parts, that’s gangster. You see somebody got oil, it’s
not yours and you want it, that’s gangster, that’s
just a big netty of it. But you don’t fetishize any person ’cause there’s a gangster
inside all of us, shot across the board. I learned it in vacation bible school. We called it charitable Christian hatred. (audience laughing) When you hate the sin and
try to love the sinner. You hate the injustice and
still try to stay in contact with the humanity of those who perpetuate the injustice. That’s Martin Luther King,
Jr., that’s Nina Simone, that’s Stevie Wonder,
that’s Aretha Franklin, that’s Irene West and
Clifton West, my parents, Shiloh Baptist Church. That’s the tradition that shaped
souls and minds and hearts to undergo a paideia to try to provide some exemplary behavior, always falling short. And Beckett is right, you try again, fail again, fail better. Try again, fail again, fail better, that’s the story of our lives. Nobody fully approximates any grand ideal. But it’s the effort. Once you give up on the effort, you give up on any quest
for truth, goodness, beauty. You give up on your democratic project and it becomes just a
matter of the survival, not just of the so-called fittest in the Darwinian sense, but
a survival of the slickest in the market-driven culture
in which we find ourselves. And that’s what brings tears to ones eyes. That’s why they talk
about liberal learning as not some kind of issue of polarization of constituencies that
have to come up with skills to learn how to relate to one another. That’s a small part of it. But what’s at the deeper level is is that with the ecological
catastrophe coming our way, with escalating possibilities of war, with wealth inequalities, with
hatred of different peoples of sexual orientation and
ethnicity, religion and races, we’re talking about the
species itself going under. Everything is at stake. And that’s one of the reasons why we’re blessed to be here at Brandeis. We appreciate you all having us. And I’m gonna hand it back
over to my dear brother. I know we should talk about
something we disagree with. Is that what you wanted us to do? (audience and Cornel laughing) I’m following you, I’m following, you say. (laughs)
(audience applauding) Absolutely, absolutely. – I have to tell a couple
of stories on Cornel. I’m sure you were as moved as I was. I’ve heard it many times,
but I’m always moved. When Cornel rightly
describes a true education, a deep education, paideia,
a liberal education, as learning how to die, well, once when I heard that speech, it was in our class, in our seminar. Now, the way we structure our
seminar is the first half, Cornel and I go back and
forth with each other about the text, a platonic
dialogue, Marx, Hayek, Gramsci, Dewey, CS Lewis, whoever it is. And then we have a break and then we come back for
the general class discussion. Well, on one occasion,
Cornel ended that first half with that speech about why we are here, why we’re doing what we’re doing, why you are at this university, what a liberal education is about. It’s about learning how to die. And that’s what you need
to be devoting yourself to, learning how to die. And that ended the first half, and we went to our break. You could hear a pin drop. And then gradually, students got up and we went over to the coffee and I was getting a cup of coffee and one of our students
was there and I said, “That was powerful.” And the student said, “How am I gonna explain it to my parents?” (audience laughing) I suppose they wanted to
be an investment manager. They thought that’s why they were sent. But it’s, oh, so true. It’s, oh, so true. A deep education, paideia
causes what Nietzsche would call a transvaluation of values. We learn, in deep education,
to relativize the things that even our well-intentioned
people who love us most tell us to focus on, getting ahead, getting a good career, high paying job, improving social standing, being somebody who matters, being somebody who’s looked up to, having high social status,
even being a celebrity. All of that gets relativized by paideia. It’s really about learning how to die, which is Cornel’s way of saying it’s about engaging those
most fundamental questions, those questions of existence
in meaning and value. The other story is this. In 2016, I had the
privilege of being elected Chairman of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. It’s a wonderful federal
government agency, much neglected, tiny budget,
but it fights the fight within the government,
within any government. It’s the gadfly within any administration. At the time it happened to
be Obama Administration. But it’s the gadfly in any administration on behalf of international
religious freedom, on behalf of prisoners of conscience, on behalf of persecuted
religious minorities and other people who are
persecuted for their beliefs. So when I was elected chairman, I needed to be sworn in. So I arranged with Chief Justice Roberts to swear me in at the Supreme
Court of the United States. And I asked Cornel if he
would come along with me and hold the bible, which he very, very
generously and graciously and kindly agreed to do. We got in touch with Harriet Tubman House up in Auburn, New York, and asked if we could borrow
Harriet Tubman’s bible, because I wanted to be sworn in on the bible of the
true human rights hero. And they were so kind,
they were wonderful people, wonderful people. – [Cornel] That’s true. – And they FedEx’d the bible, which was about as big as this table, (Cornel laughs) down to us. I don’t know how you
place an insurance value on Harriet Tubman’s bible.
(audience laughing) But there we were with Harriet
Tubman’s great big bible. (chuckles)
– That’s right. – And we were walking up the
steps of the Supreme Court to visit the Chief Justice in his chambers for the oath taking. And as we’re walking in together, I see Cornel catch the eye
of one of the police officers guarding the court. And Cornel gives him a look, and the officer gives him a look. And then we walk on. I couldn’t figure out
what that was all about. So I said, “Brother Cornel,
what was that all about “between you and the police officer?” And he said, “Well, couple of weeks ago “I was here, but I was here for a protest. “And that guy arrested me.” (Cornel and audience laughing) – That’s true. – This time, he was heading into the Chief Justice’s chambers. And then he said to me, he said, “You know, Brother Robbie, “now that I think of it,
I’ve actually never been “to the Supreme Court
except to be arrested.” (audience laughing) – That’s true, that’s true. – Well, one of the things that
Cornel and I wrestle with, now, we’re not at extremes, although that might be suggested by some
of our formal affiliations. Cornel, as you may know,
is Honorary Chairman of the Democratic Socialists of America. And I’m a conservative. One of the things we wrestle about is the place of the market. – That’s right. – And if you’re gonna have a market, you’re gonna have inequality. That’s just gonna happen. If you have a free market,
basically free market system. Now, I’m not a laissez faire libertarian. I think there are legitimate reasons to regulate the market. But I believe in a basically free market. And I believe in that
for a number of reasons, including, I think, that the
market is a wonderful mechanism for lifting people out of poverty, for dispersing power, for
making sure there’s not too much power in the
hands of the government without countervailing
authority structures. There are various reasons that I have that’ll be familiar to
conservatives and libertarians for why we favor the market. But I do believe in the market. Cornel, I’ll let you speak for yourself, but when we’ve had these debates, Brother Cornel is a bit more skeptical. I would say a good bit more skeptical (chuckles) than I am about
the magic of the market to lift people out poverty and to create centers of power that are alternatives to the government and help to keep government
in check and so forth And he’s very worried
about the inequalities, especially the gross inequalities. Now, at the same time, even though he’s Honorary Chairman of Democratic Socialists of America, he doesn’t wanna abolish the market or do away with the market or do away with private
property or ownership. If you look at the communist manifesto, which we have taught together, Cornel’s not all in with that, because he’s concerned that if you try to get perfect equality, if
you do have a government takeover of the means of production, what you’ll get pretty quickly is tyranny. So the ideal should be
wealth or income equality. But we need to realize we
can’t get to that ideal without taking risks that are too great to other important values. So the market, from
Cornel’s point of view, is the sort of lesser evil. I see it as a positive good. He sees it as a lesser evil. But that’s a question
that we wrestle with. Now, I don’t see inequality just as such as any kind of a problem. I have no problem at all with that kind. Now, we share the belief
that the basic equality and dignity of all members of
the human family is important and that with respect
to governmental policy, and even us as individuals, we should treat people with
equal concern and respect to use that phrase from
the late Ronald Dworkin, but that’s not we’re talking about here. We’re talking about income inequality, wealth inequality, and what
steps ought to be taken to ameliorate those inequalities, if, in fact, they should ameliorated. Now, to the extent, and
it’s a significant extent in most developed societies that inequalities themselves are reflective of
injustices, well then, sure. But it’s the injustice
that I’m concerned about, not the inequality. There’s a different view there. And Cornel makes me think maybe I should be worried about those inequalities,
especially when you have some people who are worth. What’s Bill Gates’ net worth? Not Bill Gates, Jeff
Bezos’s net worth today? It’s beyond imagine. I mean, I used to think it was impressive when people like Gates and
Buffett has 60 billion. Well, I think I think Bezos has blasted his way through that. I don’t know, does anybody happen to know what the latest? Is it 100 billion or 180 billion? (chuckles) Or whatever it
is, it’s beyond imagine. And some people are suffering. Now, we agree, people
ought not to be suffering. So we agree that things need
to be done for the poor. Now, we also have a disagreement
about exactly what to do. We both believe that
there needs to be private assistance to the poor. As a matter of fact, we both believe that there needs to be a
governmental safety net and we can’t rely entirely on the institutions of civil society. But, within those boundaries,
we do have disagreements. Cornel has more, just as I
have more faith in markets than he does, he has more faith in government programs than I do. I look to things like, we were talking about this in Professor Farrelly’s class today, the faith-based initiative. I’d like to see more money in the hands of private and faith-based providers, which I believe could be wrong. It’s possible that I’m wrong about this, but I believe, based on my experience, especially in Appalachia, that those providers are more effective. Their problem is a lack of resources. Government programs, as far as I can tell, tend to me, not every case, but tend to be less
effective and more wasteful. So since I believe in social mobility, since I want people at the
bottom end to be cared for, I’m looking for ways to invigorate and empower institutions of civil society to do that fundamental health
education and welfare work, acknowledging that you
can’t rely on it entirely, that there has to be a social safety net. So, in a certain sense, we do have serious
disagreements about this. They matter. We might vote for different candidates based on considerations like that, but notice that neither
of us is at extremes. He’s not going to abolish private property or try to
enforce wealth equality. I’m not going to embrace
laissez faire Randian Libertarian views, or the belief that any outcome that the market produces is by definition just because it’s the outcome
that the market produced. But, Cornel, you should
talk a bit about that, (drowned by Cornel).
– No, indeed, ’cause I think the, well,
one, after your masterful lecture in Professor Farrelly’s class, talking about separations of power and the mechanisms of accountability when it comes to government, when it comes to public power, I want that same focus
on the accountability of concentration of power in the market, oligarchs, plutocrats, those at the top who have very little
public accountability, able to engage in tax evasion, able to come up with ingenious ways of resisting the pull to a public good. Now, many of them high
philanthropic profiles, and that’s a beautiful thing. But charity’s not the same as justice. It’s a beautiful thing for the caste to flow from the top, but we’re talking about quay citizen. Citizen has to do with
public interest, public good, not private marketeer, who then is kind enough to give money. And, of course, we have
a long history of that in United States, from
Carnegie and Rockefeller and Roosevelt, a whole host of others, very kind private marketeers
who gave big money for wonderful causes. So you don’t downplay that, but you don’t allow
that to be a substitute for commitment to public good. So I push Brother Robbie, we go at this on and on and on in between him playing his guitar and me singing, (Robert laughs) that I do have a deep
suspicion of public power. And I have to, I come from a minority who had to deal with the
tyranny of the majority. We exemplify what de
Tocqueville talked about in terms of the tyranny of the majority. If we had to wait for
white brother and sisters to vote for black people to
be emancipated from slavery, me and Sister Anita, and others, be on the move this very moment, ’cause we still have to challenge this. That was over against, that
was counter-majoritarian, So was Brown v. Board, so was a whole host of movements that were enhancing for the vulnerable. So we had to vary in
proposition about this. We can’t be dogmatic about this. I have a deep suspicion of government. I have a deep suspicion of
the rule of law in the courts, even though I’m committed to rule of law and committed to
counter-majoritarian institutions protecting the liberties that are the preconditions
of democratic practices. But they haven’t been
too good at it over time. We’ve had some breakthroughs, but haven’t been too good at it. But we’re still committed to it in the same way Robbie then comes and says that we’ve got to come to terms with some market driven solutions
to deal with poverty. You have one out of
two children under six, black and brown in America, living in poverty in the richest nation in the history of the world. We both agree that’s morally obscene. That’s spiritually empty. Where’s the priority? Now, that’s what I like
about Brother Bernie Sanders. Bernie said, “I’m going
after big business.” How many politicians have
the courage to do that? Usually because they need big business to even become politicians
who think they can win. Bernie said, “I don’t give a damn.” (audience laughing) I said, “Brother Bernie,
I’m going with you.” (Robert and audience laughing) Oh, we’re going down together. Do I agree with everything with Bernie? Absolutely not, absolutely. Now, he’s got Eugene Debs on his wall. (audience laughing) Eugene Debs was a great
man, but I got Martin King. (Robert laughs) yes, I got Fannie Lou Hamer,
it’s a different tradition. But we overlap in a magnificent way. And I’m just giving examples of both the overlap, but also
some of the deep differences that we have. And that does not prevent
us, though, from personally coming together and going
into poor communities and Robbie giving very, very powerful lectures on paideia to young black kids and young poor kids. And the same with myself
in terms of other context, but being true to ourselves. I mean, that’s the important thing. I don’t think you can
have a deep friendship and a deep love connection without being true to yourself and being open and vulnerable enough that you’re able to reveal your agreements and your disagreements. – Cornel has raised an issue that I think is not discussed enough. And the reason it’s not discussed enough is really both parties and both sides in our own politics have
reasons not to discuss it. And that’s the problem with
plutocracy, plutocracy. On the conservative side, the temptation is not to acknowledge there’s a problem there, that there can be private power that is so immunized from accountability. – [Cornel] That’s right. – And that is so large that it functions as public power. And it can influence the public wheel in ways that undermine the
interests and choices and will of the democratic republic. On the left, the problem is not acknowledging that
plutocracy is a problem, folks on the left will
acknowledge that all day. Doing something about it when you’re involved in it big time, when you like what
plutocracy is doing for you or for your causes, that’s another story, but I think that’s an area where people on the left and the right
who are people of principle can, despite their disagreements, actually come together
and begin by saying, “Look at the emperor. “Look at what no one
else wants to look at. “Look at the problem of plutocracy “and look at how widespread it is.” Yeah, Maura, go ahead, yeah. – Just jump in, because
we’ve got about 10 minutes. I could listen to you all evening. (laughs)
(Robert laughs) But I do wanna try and get
a couple of questions in from the audience. So why don’t we, we’ve got 10 minutes. I’m gonna take one from this microphone. And one, don’t knock each other down (audience laughing)
as you’re trying to get to the microphone. – We could take some
more time if you’d like, because we’re in no rush. – Yeah, we got a dinner, unfortunately. – We’ve got a dinner. – Oh, we got dinner. Oh, (mumbles). (audience laughing) – So, first of all, this is
Mr. Roland Blanding over here. – Right over here, yeah. – Go right ahead. – Can everyone hear me? Hi, everyone, my name is Roland Blanding. I’m a sophomore here,
econ and philosophy major. I was part of Professor Farrelly’s Supper Club last semester. Best time of my life. I wanna thank Professor and
George and Professor West for coming here in the first place. And Professor West, I
actually had a question specifically for you. So one of the readings that we had in a class I took with Professor Farrelly was your book Race Matters. And you talk about the different
types of black leaders. And of the three categories, I specifically remember
self-effacing leaders, and transcendent leaders. And the question that was sort
of engendered in me back then that I still carry now is what type of leader do
you think that you are? Is this is the type of
leader that you wanted to be when you started? And what can I do to become
a transcendent leader, not just a transcendent black leader? – [Cornel] Mm. – [Robert] Good. – Beautiful question, beautiful question. One, though, I don’t
consider myself a leader, ’cause I don’t have an organization, I don’t have a infrastructure. I’m a lone ranger. (audience laughing) I go in and out of
different organizations, groups, movements and so forth. But as a revolutionary Christian, I’m in the world but not of it. And that means that you have
to wear it, in some sense, where it like a loose garment. You can’t be subsumed under that dogma, subsumed under their auspices as it were. So you’re actually intervening
with whatever power authenticity and for realness you have, but you’re not a leader in that sense, you’re simply a person who’s
trying to bear witness. You see, we Christians in the world, we’re just trying to bear
witness with works of love that ought to be shaped by
sincere self-renunciation and driven by love with no call for any overarching applause. Now, the applause is nice, but you don’t allow the popularity to trump your integrity. So, against Obama, against whoever it is, if I’m telling the truth
in the Middle East, if I wanna tell the truth, I’m gonna tell the truth
regardless of the popularity, and just hope I don’t
get shot the next night. You know what I mean?
(audience laughing) You got character assassination, you got literal assassination. So in that sense, (audience laughing) in that sense it’ll be closer to the legacy of Martin King. Brother, where’s Brother Kaplan? He understands what I’m talking about. That’s what Heschel’s about. That’s what Dorothy Day’s about. You see, they weren’t
persons who were somehow connected to any one organization. They’re parts of tradition, absolutely, but not any organization. For me, a leader is somebody
who has an organization. Brother Ron is a leader of Brandeis. I don’t have a Brandeis. (audience laughing)
If you see what I mean. I just have myself. I’m a jazz man. I got my voice, I got my instrument, I got my partners, my companions, and then my political comrades, many of whom I might disagree with. Some of who might be spiritually vacuous and I tell ’em so. I disagree with them on policy. But they’re not the kinda folks I wanna be in a foxhole with. This brother, each time I go to jail, he’s the first one to call to pay my bail. (audience laughing) And, I say, “Oh, what happened? “Where’s my leftist comrades?” “Well, you know, we’re
glad you’re in there. “We appreciate
(audience laughing) “the wonderful thing you’re doing.” “I need to get out!” “Okay, Brother Robbie’s got cash.” (audience laughing) But see, that’s a different
kind of connection. You see that? I’m sorry to go on, but I
appreciate that question. – [Maura] All right and if you could introduce
yourself, please. – Hi, my name is Shenaaz,
I’m a student at Brandeis. And I really, really liked
the description of the world that both the speakers illustrated, this world where we can talk to people we disagree with in a respectful way, and resolve our differences in this way. And I really, really wish
that I lived in such a world, but I don’t. As a millennial, I live in
a world, honestly, where the society’s teetering
on the brink of fascism. And it seems that these past structures that are really entrenched, that are doing a lot of
violence to a lot of people, and it seems very unfair to ask the people at the very bottom to
be civil to the people who are oppressing them. – Mm, it’s a powerful
question, my brother. Very powerful question. And there’s a difference between being respectful of others as opposed to being civil that has deferential implications. There’s ways of being
respectful that are civil. There’s way that are being
civil that are deferential. We are not asking any oppressed
people to be deferential. We’re not asking for any oppressed people not to raise their voices and puncture the lives in mendacity that’s being put forward that
reproduces their suffering. But we are asking all persons, especially those that
have been dehumanized, to stay in contact with
the humanity of others ’cause you know precisely what it’s like to experience dehumanization. And you don’t want anybody
to experience that. Now, that’s a spiritual jump. That’s a moral jump. We must keep a stress on the
moral and spiritual dimensions of the kind of persons
we are and are becoming in our movements. This is not a utilitarian calculus. This is not a manipulative
strategy of just winning. It’s a process of being
decent and having integrity. And that’s the conception of deep civility that I think all oppressed
people must have, because if all you wanna
do, if you’re oppressed, is end up oppressing others. If all you wanna do if you’re
not being treated civilly is to give incivility back, if all you wanna do if you’re being hated is to give hatred back, then, in fact, that
just increases the hate, the incivility and so forth. You see the point that I’m asking? And that’s a very important discussion. And I’m so glad you raised that questions, because many of my leftist comrades, they, “Brother West,
how come you engage with “dialogues with different
kinds of persons, and so forth? “You got to draw the line. “This is a question of power.” I say yes it is a question of power. I’m not naive with economic
and political power, but there’s something called
moral and spiritual power, too. And in the end, when
the worms get your body, when your grandmama got
to make her assessment of how you live your life from the grave, she’s not gonna be looking just on how you deploy political and economic power, she wants to know what
kinda human being you were through time and space from
your mama’s womb to tomb. And that’s the level of the
best of oppressed peoples. It’s the best of the history
of Jewish resistance, best of the history of Irish resistance against British imperialism, the best of all peoples who are
trying to come to terms with various mechanisms of
oppression and so forth. And that’s my own tradition, too, in terms of Fannie Lou
and Martin and the others. You wanna say something?
– The only thing I would add to what Professor West said is that we tend to, in this country, to sort ourselves out into communities of likemindedness, where
we end up associating with and talking with and
developing relationships with people who basically
see the world as we do. It’s now even gotten to the point, and this is the other side of a blessing, it’s a blessing that
we have so many sources of news and commentary,
not only the internet, but even television when
Brother West and I were young in the Middle Ages,
there were four channels on TV.
(audience laughing) You know, four networks. – That’s true.
– And that was it. And there were three
newspapers, basically, three national newspapers. Well, the other side of that blessing is it’s now possible for those
of one political persuasion to read only these papers,
watch only these news channels, go to only these websites
and those of that particular opposite persuasian to go there. And everybody in between can
find a niche for themselves. And even regionally,
we sort ourselves out, or even in institutions. It’s really important for everyone to find people you have very
fundamental disagreements with and develop relationships with them. Try to understand where
they’re coming from, consider the the possibility
that they might be right on some things. – [Cornel] Absolutely. – That you might be wrong on some things. That doesn’t mean you
don’t have conviction. That doesn’t mean you throw
away your convictions. That doesn’t mean you don’t act. But you do need to be willing to listen and you need to get to know people. And if we have a problem
where we’re in institutions, where at least on the fundamentals, pretty much everybody is in agreement, then we’re being deprived
of the opportunities to be challenged by people
who do think differently than we do. If Brandeis University
or Princeton University or Harvard, Swarthmore,
is not challenging you, is not creating opportunities
where you do interact with people who disagree with you or hear speakers or have professors who are challenging some
of your fundamental beliefs then it’s not doing you the service it’s meant to be doing. It’s not providing you with paideia, with the true liberal education. But whether or not, whatever the institutional
impediments are, because of region or the communities that you happen to be in, and so forth, take the affirmative responsibility
to find opportunities to interact with people
who will challenge, who will unsettle us. – [Maura] It’s 6:30, I think
that’s actually a great note for us to end on. So I thank you, that’s all I can say. (audience applauding) – God bless you. (Cornel drowned by applause)

Danny Hutson

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