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Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

George, Robert P.


 

  • Princeton University: Professor

  • U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom: Chair

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Robert P. George is a conservative Catholic activist and academic who was once dubbed "this country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker." Likened by one reporter as his generation's Richard John Neuhaus, George has played a leading role in crafting right-wing messaging on social issues and in uniting conservative Catholics and evangelicals into a cohesive political movement on the Christian Right.[1]

George endeavors to frame his arguments on behalf of socially conservative positions in secular rather than religious terms, calling it "natural law." He has argued, for example, that a human fetus is a "complete, self-integrating organism," and thus that abortion and embryonic stem cell research should be considered infanticide.[2]

He stridently opposes same-sex marriage, homosexuality, and heterosexual sodomy, arguing that "Male and female complementarity allows them to unite 'organically' as 'a single procreative principle,'" according to a New York Times review of his 2013 book Conscience and Its Enemies. "Whether they actually procreate or not," the reviewer explained, George argues that "men and women are engaging in 'one flesh unity'" in their marital relations. (The reviewer countered that George's "reasoning about the nature of marriage … is so far removed from most people’s lived experience that it will be inconsistent with their intuitions about the human good.")[3]

George insists that religious principles should be used primarily to inform the politics of "moral issues" rather than "matters of public policy upon which Gospel principles by themselves do not resolve differences of opinion." In a 2009 profile of George, reporter David Kirkpatrick observed that "In practice, George and his allies have usually found the rules of sexuality quite absolute, while the church’s teachings about social justice come out more contingent. That may be why he is almost uniformly popular among evangelicals but controversial among many of his fellow Catholics, particularly those who prefer the church's peace-and-justice liberalism to its conservative bioethics."[4]

Although the bulk of George's work concerns "moral issues," he occasionally weighs in on national security. Notably, George supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq, arguing in late 2002 that even a preemptive war of aggression could be considered just if it were "motivated by a reasonable belief that a proven aggressor is in the process of equipping himself with the military means to carry out further aggression with impunity.” He added that “Few people doubt that Saddam is seeking to enhance his chemical and biological arsenal, and (even more ominously) to acquire nuclear weapons." George concluded by arguing that once diplomatic avenues were exhausted, war became not only morally permissible but mandatory. "Sometimes statesmen cannot fulfill their moral duties to prevent aggression and resist tyranny relying exclusively on diplomatic or other non-military means. In these circumstances—though, to be sure, only then—just war theory supposes that the decision to fight is not merely optional; it is morally required."[5]

On his blog at First Things, published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life, George occasionally weighs in on other more strictly political matters—criticizing the Obama administration, for example, for its account of the 2012 Benghazi attack that resulted in the deaths of four U.S. diplomatic personnel in Libya,[6] as well as for having "a dangerously inflated view of the proper role of government and very little understanding of business."[7]

George has occasionally broken with other conservative pundits, notably with respect to the use of armed drones overseas. While he doesn't consider the use of drones to be "inherently immoral in otherwise justifiable military operations," George wrote in 2012 that “having a valid military target is in itself not a sufficient justification for the use of weapons such as predator drones. Sometimes considerations of justice to noncombatants forbid their use, even if that means that grave risks must be endured by our own forces in the prosecution of a war. The wholesale and indiscriminate use of drones cannot be justified, and should be criticized."[8]

Professional and Institutional Track Record

George is based at Princeton University, where he serves as a law professor and as the founding director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions.

In a 2006 report for the Nation, Max Blumenthal likened the Madison Program to conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. According to Blumenthal, the program—which is funded largely by conservative foundations and does not depend on Princeton for its finances—hosts "a collection of visiting fellows rife with academic neophytes and unknowns, many of whom have also been fellows of foundations like Olin and Bradley." Discussions hosted by the center have posited that a Supreme Court ruling striking down anti-sodomy laws in the United States was "the worst Supreme Court decision in history," and panel guests at various events have included white nationalist Peter Brimelow and controversial neoconservative hawk Frank Gaffney, among others.[9]

George has won plaudits from such Republican figures as commentator Glenn Beck, GOP strategist Karl Rove, Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, and former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich. He has advised GOP presidential contenders Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and John McCain. "If there really is a vast right-wing conspiracy," quipped one right-leaning Catholic publication, "its leaders probably meet in George's kitchen."[10]

George is a senior fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution, where he serves on the Task Force on Virtues for a Free Society, as well as at the Witherspoon Institute, a socially conservative think tank he helped to found. An emeritus chair of the anti-marriage equality National Organization for Marriage, George has also served on the boards of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the American Enterprise Institute, the Family Research Council, the Institute on Religion and Democracy, and the Institute on Religion and Public Life, among others. He remains a contributor and editorial board member at IRPL's First Things and contributes frequently to other right-of-center publications.[11]

George has served on a number of government advisory committees, including Bill Clinton's Commission on Civil Rights, George W. Bush's Council on Bioethics, and most recently on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom—accepting a 2013 congressional appointment to chair the latter commission[12] despite having accused the Obama administration of waging a "massive assault on religious liberty" in the United States with its socially liberal policies.[13] Karl Rove has credited George with turning the Bush administration against embryonic stem cell research.[14]

Reflecting his influence on Christian churches in the United States, George has also been credited as the lead drafter of the Manhattan Declaration, a 2009 manifesto that "promised resistance to the point of civil disobedience against any legislation that might implicate their churches or charities in abortion, embryo-destructive research or same-sex marriage," according to David Kirkpatrick in the New York Times Magazine. The declaration was signed by numerous Catholic, Orthodox, and evangelical leaders in the United States, including several Catholic bishops.[15]

 

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Sources


[1] David Kirkpatrick, "The Conservative-Christian Big Thinker," New York Times Magazine, December 16, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/20/magazine/20george-t.html?pagewanted=all.



[2] Kay S. Hymowitz, "Natural Lawyer," New York Times, June 21, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/23/books/review/conscience-and-its-enemies-by-robert-p-george.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.



[3] Kay S. Hymowitz, "Natural Lawyer," New York Times, June 21, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/23/books/review/conscience-and-its-enemies-by-robert-p-george.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.



[4] David Kirkpatrick, "The Conservative-Christian Big Thinker," New York Times Magazine, December 16, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/20/magazine/20george-t.html?pagewanted=all.



[5] Robert George, "Just War in Iraq," Wall Street Journal, December 6, 2002, available at http://web.archive.org/web/20030317075927/http://www.ird-renew.org/news/NewsPrint.cfm?ID=548&c=4



[6] Robert George, "Benghazi’s Blue Wall of Silence," First Things "First Thoughts" blog, January 30, 2013, http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2013/01/30/benghazis-blue-wall-of-silence/; Robert George, "A Question for the President," First Things "First Thoughts" blog, July 19, 2013, http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2013/07/19/a-question-for-the-president/.



[7] Robert George, "Obama’s Bum Rap on 'You Didn’t Build That,'" First Things "First Thoughts" blog, September 24, 2012, http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2012/09/24/obamas-bum-rap-on-you-didnt-build-that/.



[8] Robert George, "Catholics Should Criticize Indiscriminate Drone Use," First Things "First Thoughts" blog, June 18, 2012, http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2012/06/18/catholics-should-criticize-indiscriminate-drone-use/.



[9] Max Blumenthal, "Princeton Tilts Rights," The Nation, February 23, 2006, http://www.thenation.com/print/article/princeton-tilts-right#axzz2cAvOO2hN.



[10] David Kirkpatrick, "The Conservative-Christian Big Thinker," New York Times Magazine, December 16, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/20/magazine/20george-t.html?pagewanted=all.



[11] Witherspoon Institute, Robert George bio, http://winst.org/fellows/fellows/robert-p-george/.



[12] Tyler O'Niel, "Conservative Princeton Law Prof. Robert P. George Is New USCIRF Chair; Democrat Predecessor Praises Successor," Christian Post, July 26, 2013, http://www.christianpost.com/news/conservative-princeton-law-prof-robert-p-george-is-new-uscirf-chair-democrat-predecessor-praises-successor-100907/#pGvdveCb4SJucW4L.99.



[13] Brian Tashman, "Robert George Warns of Obama's 'Massive Assault on Religious Liberty,'" Right Wing Watch, February 15, 2012, http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/robert-george-warns-obamas-massive-assault-religious-liberty#sthash.0GKr6Nor.dpuf.



[14] David Kirkpatrick, "The Conservative-Christian Big Thinker," New York Times Magazine, December 16, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/20/magazine/20george-t.html?pagewanted=all.



[15] David Kirkpatrick, "The Conservative-Christian Big Thinker," New York Times Magazine, December 16, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/20/magazine/20george-t.html?pagewanted=all


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George, Robert P. Résumé


 



Affiliations

  • Princeton University: Law Professor, Founding Director of James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions

  • Harvard University: Visiting Professor

  • National Organization for Marriage: Chairman emeritus

  • Witherspoon Institute: Senior fellow

  • Hoover Institution: Senior Fellow

  • Institute for Religion and Public Life: Board member, First Things contributor

  • Bradley Foundation: Board member

  • Ethics and Public Policy Center: Board member

  • American Enterprise Institute: Board member

  • Family Research Council: Board member

  • Institute on Religion and Democracy: Board member

  • Council on Foreign Relations: Member




Government

  • United States Commission on International Religious Freedom: Chairman

  • President's Council on Bioethics: Member (2002-2009)

  • United States Commission on Civil Rights: Member (1993-1998)

  • U.S. Supreme Court: Former Judicial Fellow




Business

  • Robinson & McElwee (Charleston, WV): Of counsel




Education

  • Swarthmore College: BA

  • Harvard University: JD

  • Oxford University: PhD

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