A Mind on the Right

Paul Wachter, Swarthmore Bulletin, January, 2009.


Robert George ’77, a leading conservative public intellectual, remembers the precise moment that he was set on the path to becoming an academic: It was when he first encountered Plato’s dialogue Gorgias in Kenneth Sharpe’s political theory seminar.

“Before reading that dialogue, never in my wildest dreams would I have thought of pursuing an academic career,” George says. Like many students, he had perceived a college education as a traditional step to professional success and not as something valuable in and of itself, as a means “to understand more deeply the truth about oneself and the world.”

In the passage of Plato’s dialogue that struck George, Socrates questions Gorgias, a well-respected sophist, about the nature of his craft—persuasion. “The conclusion that Socrates takes us to … is that you’d be better off losing an argument when you’re wrong than winning it,” George told me during my recent visit to Princeton University, where he is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence. “Boy, that really made me look at myself in a way I never had before … and I began a personal journey that led me eventually to be an academic, to become a professor, to live my life in the realm of ideas and arguments and intellectual discourse.”