Dozens of students lined the walls of Library East room 100 Thursday night to listen to public intellectuals for what marked the first event hosted by the Hamilton Center of the fall semester.
The public event ‘Truth-Seeking and Democracy’ was co-sponsored by the African American Studies Program and Bob Graham Center for Civil Service. The speakers, Cornel West and Robert George, are known for their close friendship and widely different political ideologies. More than 70 people attended the talk.
West, a left-leaning American philosopher and political activist, and George, a conservative legal scholar and political philosopher, have considered themselves brothers since they met while teaching at Princeton University.
David Canton, an associate professor in history and the director of the African American Studies program, said the event was a great opportunity for his students to learn from two well-known, highly acclaimed professors.
“They have a great relationship and really model how one should have debates and dialogue on campus,” he said. “Professor West’s scholarship reflects the long history of African American Studies.”
The talk began around 4 p.m. after an introduction from John Stinneford, a senior fellow for the Hamilton Center. William Inboden, director of the Hamilton Center, moderated the hour and a half event.
Having the Bob Graham Center for Civil Service and the African Americans Studies program as co-sponsors demonstrated the Hamilton Center’s goal to bring diverse ideas to UF, Inboden said in a text message.
“Both Dr. West and Dr. George encouraged our students to treat their UF education as not just a preparation for their career, but to quip them with the values to be citizens and flourishing human beings,” Inboden said.
The Hamilton Center, which the state legislature established in 2022, seeks to provide students with a multidisciplinary approach to teaching Classical education and promoting civil discourse. The center has faced skepticism for its ties to state funding and a conservative think tank.
West and George discussed topics like philosophy, religion and the politics of understanding what it means to be human throughout the event.
“Love is in no way reducible to politics,” was one of West’s driving points of the night. Classical education and history should not create a battle for superiority and human decency, he said.
He urged students to be humble, self-critical and let outdated views fade when new information and knowledge is acquired. He also spoke about the ongoing issue of complacency, conformity and indifference that he witnesses in today’s world.
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West mentioned present-day efforts to erase and censor Critical Race Theory. He has defended the teaching and wrote the foreword to “Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement.”
“The condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak,” West said.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has advocated against Critical Race Theory, claiming it is a form of indoctrination. DeSantis’ signed the Stop W.O.K.E. Act into law April 2022, works to prevent “state-sanctioned” racism.
George addressed the importance of the great books, which refer to books widely adopted by scholars as instrumental to human knowledge and wisdom. These stories are what have guided him and West through their scholarship and truth-seeking.
People act because they have emotional investment in something, whether it be spouses, children or friends, George said. But people need to be weary of wrapping too tightly around their convictions, he added.
“We quickly rush to the conclusion that anybody who disagrees with me must have nefarious motive or be a fool, a bigot, a bad person,” he said.
George spoke about fallibility — how people can have wrong religious opinions, moral beliefs, political beliefs, human nature, human rights and justice. People need to be courageous in pursuit of new thoughts and ideas, he said.
Joshua Nemery, a 19-year-old UF political science sophomore, who is a member of the Society of Fellows through the Hamilton Center, attended the event. West’s discussion about Critical Race Theory stood out to Nemery.
For Nemery, Events like these reflect the Hamilton Center’s mission to have difficult but meaningful conversations, he said.
“The whole idea of an institution like this is to bridge the gap between agreement and disagreement and come up with these dialogues,” Nemery said.
Liz Thomason, a 20-year-old UF political science and French junior, is another one of the Hamilton Center’s Society of Fellows members. As a self-described “political philosophy nerd” she said she was excited to see West and George speak.
She was hesitant to apply for a Hamilton Center-based group because of the center’s initial controversy. But after considering her options she decided to apply and participate in events and discussions such as West and Georges.’
“The idea of integrity, honesty, decency, rather than greed — not really surrendering to notions of self-interest, but rather working for a greater good … that’s something that really hit me,” she said.
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Sophia Bailly is a second-year journalism major and covers politics for the enterprise desk. Some of her favorite things include The Beatles, croissants and Agatha Christie books. When she’s not writing stories she’s either reading or going for a run.