A Professor’s Test of Moral Courage

by George Brahm

Robert P. George is an American legal scholar, a political philosopher in the natural law tradition, and a conservative public intellectual who serves as McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. Of late, he has been a vocal critic of cancel culture and a prominent advocate of civil discourse, which he embodies through his many public dialogues with his ideological opponent and best friend, the prominent socialist philosopher Cornel West.

Yesterday, Dr. George put up a Twitter thread describing a method he uses to test his students’ moral courage. Given its relevance to our cultural moment, I have copied it below for our readers.

I sometimes ask students what their position on slavery would have been had they been white and living in the South before abolition. Guess what? They all would have been abolitionists! They all would have bravely spoken out against slavery, and worked tirelessly against it.

Of course, this is nonsense. Only the tiniest fraction of them, or of any of us, would have spoken up against slavery or lifted a finger to free the slaves. Most of them—and us—would have gone along. Many would have supported the slave system and happily benefited from it. So I respond by saying that I will credit their claims if they can show evidence of the following: that in leading their lives today they have stood up for the rights of unpopular victims of injustice whose very humanity is denied, and where they have done so knowing:

(1) that it would make them unpopular with their peers;
(2) that they would be loathed and ridiculed by powerful, influential individuals and institutions in our society;
(3) that they would be abandoned by many of their friends;
(4) that they would be called nasty names; and
(5) that they would risk being denied valuable professional opportunities as a result of their moral witness.

In short, my challenge is to show where they have at risk to themselves and their futures stood up for a cause that is unpopular in elite sectors of our culture today.

Robert P. George (@McCormickProf) on Twitter

If every single one of us took Dr. George’s test, America would not look the same. We would move from irrationality to reason; from outrage to introspection; and from hatred to compassion and understanding.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of other authors at Cogent Christianity.

One thought on “A Professor’s Test of Moral Courage

Add yours

  1. Good points. It’s called presentism — seeing the past periods in history through a 21st century lens and applying it to those former eras. People know and do what they do by what they know at the time they live in. The exceptions are few.

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