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Robert P. George (born July 10, 1955) is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, where he lectures on constitutional interpretation, civil liberties and philosophy of law. He also serves as the director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. George has been called America's "most influential conservative Christian thinker." He is a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, and the Herbert W. Vaughan senior fellow of the Witherspoon Institute.
George grew up in Morgantown, West Virginia, the grandson of immigrant coal miners. He was educated at Swarthmore College (BA), Harvard Law School (JD), Harvard Divinity School (MTS), and Oxford University (DPhil). At Oxford he studied under John Finnis and Joseph Raz.
George joined the faculty of Princeton University as an Instructor in 1985. The following year he became a tenure-track Assistant Professor. In 1988-89 he spent a sabbatical leave at Oxford University as a Visiting Fellow in Law, working on his book Making Men Moral: Civil Liberties and Public Morality, which was published by Oxford University Press in 1993. The book challenged key premises of contemporary liberal political philosophy, and drew praise even from thinkers working firmly within the liberal tradition. One prominent political philosopher, Jeffrie Murphy, stated that “Robert George has, I must admit, made me nervous about my commitments to liberalism.” In 1994, George was awarded tenure at Princeton and promoted to the rank of Associate Professor. In 1999, he was elevated to the rank of Professor and installed in Princeton’s McCormick Chair of Jurisprudence, a celebrated endowed professorship previously held by Woodrow Wilson, Edward S. Corwin, Alpheus T. Mason, and Walter F. Murphy. George founded Princeton’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions in 2000 and continues to serve as its Director.
George is an award-winning teacher at Princeton, where his courses are heavily subscribed and, according to the Princeton University Undergraduate Course Guide, are among the most highly rated in the university. Since 2007, George has been teaching with his Princeton colleague Cornel West, a leading left-wing public intellectual, in undergraduate seminars on leading thinkers in western intellectual history. Readings have included Sophocles' Antigone, Plato's Gorgias, St. Augustine’s Confessions, Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto, Dubois’ The Souls of Black Folk, Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks, Strauss’s Natural Right and History, and King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. The George-West collaboration has drawn attention both on and off campus, and is widely noted as an example of how scholars can work together across ideological lines of division to enhance the quality of higher education.
George is a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a position to which he was appointed by the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012. He served from 1993 to 1998 as a presidential appointee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, and from 2002 to 2009 as a member of the President's Council on Bioethics. He is a former Judicial Fellow at the Supreme Court of the United States, where he received the Justice Tom C. Clark Award. He has served on UNESCO’s World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST), of which he remains a corresponding member. He is a member of the boards of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the Institute for American Values, the American Enterprise Institute, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and several other organizations. He serves on the editorial boards of Touchstone, First Things, and Public Discourse magazines, as well as several academic journals. He is of counsel to the law firm of Robinson & McElwee PLLC in Charleston, West Virginia, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Supreme Court Justice and former Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan praised George as "one of the nation’s most respected legal theorists", saying that the respect he had gained was due to "his sheer brilliance, the analytic power of his arguments, the range of his knowledge", and "a deeply principled conviction, a profound and enduring integrity".
George twice served as Governor of the West Virginia Democratic Youth Conference, and attended the 1976 Democratic National Convention as an alternate delegate. George moved to the right in the 1980s, largely due to his views on abortion, and left the Democratic Party as a result of what he saw as its increasingly strong commitment to legal abortion and its public funding, and his growing skepticism about the effectiveness of Great Society social welfare projects in Appalachia and other low income rural and urban areas. George is founder of the American Principles Project, which aims to create a grass-roots movement around his ideas. The American Principles Project states that it is dedicated to "preserving and propagating the fundamental principles on which our country was founded." He is a past chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, an advocacy group opposed to same-sex marriage, and co-founder of the Renewal Forum, an organization fighting the sexual trafficking and commercial exploitation of women and children.
George drafted the Manhattan Declaration, a manifesto signed by Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical leaders 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."
Andrew Sullivan writes that George, along with other public intellectuals, played a key role in creating the "theoconservative" movement and integrating it into mainstream Republicanism. Sullivan sees George as a central figure to understanding "the revolution in American conservatism that has taken place in the last few years."
On December 8, 2008, George was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by President George W. Bush. On May 4, 2010, in Warsaw, he received the Honorific Medal for the Defense of Human Rights of the Republic of Poland. He is a recipient of the Canterbury Medal of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and he was one of four winners of the 2005 Bradley Awards for Civic and Intellectual Achievement. He is also a recipient of the Sidney Hook Memorial Award of the National Association of Scholars and the Philip Merrill Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Liberal Arts of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. In 2007, he gave the annual John Dewey Lecture in Philosophy of Law at Harvard University, on the subject of natural law. He has given the annual Judge Guido Calabresi Lecture at Yale University, the Sir Malcolm Knox Lecture at the University of St. Andrews, and the Frank Irvine Lecture at Cornell University. George holds honorary doctorates of law, letters, science, civil law, humane letters, ethics, and juridical science.
George is a finger style guitarist and bluegrass banjo player. His guitar playing is in the style of Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed. His banjo playing mixes the styles of Earl Scruggs, Don Reno, and Bela Fleck. As a teenager, he performed with folk groups and bluegrass bands in coffee houses, rod and gun clubs, and at state and county fairs in West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia. At Swarthmore he led "Robby George and Friends", a country and bluegrass band. He performs in New Jersey with the band "Blue Heart".