Last spring, I gave a talk called “Notes on a New Humanism in Legal Education,” organized by the Center for Law and the Human Person at Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law. In it, I argued that one possible model for the future of legal education might be take inspiration from the Christian humanist tradition of education pressed by various late medieval and early Renaissance thinkers (and ably described by Professor James Hankins, for example here and here).
So I was very interested to see this new book out in December, The Wisdom of Our Ancestors: Conservative Humanism and the Western Tradition (Notre Dame Press), by Graham James McAleer and Alexander S. Rosenthal-Pubul. The book presents an interesting intellectual reconstruction of the humanist tradition, offering up something the authors call “conservative humanism.” A book worth engaging.
In this book, Graham McAleer and Alexander Rosenthal-Pubul offer a renewed vision of conservatism for the twenty-first century. Taking their inspiration from the late Roger Scruton, the authors begin with a simple question: What, after all, is the meaning of conservatism? In reply, they make a case for a political orientation that they call “conservative humanism,” which threads a middle way between liberal universalism and its ideological alternatives. This vision of conservatism is rooted in the humanist tradition (that is, classical humanism, Christian humanism, and secular humanism), which the authors take to be the hallmark of Western civilizational identity. At its core, conservative humanism attempts to reconcile universal moral values (rooted in natural law) with local, particularist loyalties. In articulating this position, the authors show that the West—contra various contemporary critics—does, in fact, have a great deal of wisdom to offer.
The authors begin with an overview of the conservative thought world, situating their proposal relative to two major poles: liberalism and nationalism. They move on to show that conservatism must fundamentally take the form of a defense of humanism, the “master idea of our civilization.” The ensuing chapters articulate various aspects of conservative humanism, including its metaphysical, institutional, legal, philosophical, and economic dimensions. Largely rooted in the Anglo-Continental conservative tradition, the work offers fresh perspectives for North American conservatism.