Patrick Deneen On Georgetown’s Fuzzy American History

Patrick Deneen, professor of government at Georgetown and founder of Georgetown’s Tocqueville Forum on the Roots of American Democracy, spoke September 23rd at a luncheon in New York sponsored by the Manhattan Institute’s Center for the American University. The following is an excerpt. The full text will appear in the winter issue of The New Atlantis.

“Today many university students are taught little to nothing about the Constitution, much less its philosophical and even theological underpinnings. If anything, they are either taught to see its constraints as obstacles to be overcome, or simply to understand it as a “living” document that reflects the sentiments of the day. At Georgetown, where I teach, there is one course in American history – actually called “History of the Atlantic” – that can be taken to fulfill one of the core course requirements in History. This course focuses primarily on issues of race, gender, and colonialism, briefly touching on the Atlantic Revolutions, and at no time on the American Founding. However a disproportionately large amount of time is spent exploring American exploitation. Implicitly our students are taught that the official claims of the Founders were so much deceptive rhetoric, that they employed rationalizations to cover their fundamental will to power. By implication, will to power is the sole identifiable motivation of human beings, and to accept the notion that we are to be governed by a law above ourselves is simply to be a dupe or a patsy. They are not told that the Constitution lays out not only the basic structures of government, but does so in a manner that acknowledges our perpetual need for the lessons of self-restraint through the rule of law.”

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