Robert P. George

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Robert P. George
George in 2018
Robert Peter George

(1955-07-10) July 10, 1955 (age 68)
EducationSwarthmore College (BA)
Harvard University (MTS, JD)
Oxford University (DPhil, BCL, DCL)
AwardsPresidential Citizens Medal
Canterbury Medal
Irving Kristol Award
Philip Merrill Award
Sidney Hook Memorial Award
James Q. Wilson Award
Bradley Prize
Barry Prize
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
InstitutionsPrinceton University
Oxford University
Harvard University
American Enterprise Institute
Witherspoon Institute
Pepperdine University
Doctoral advisorJohn Finnis
Joseph Raz

Robert Peter George (born July 10, 1955) is an American legal scholar, political philosopher, and public intellectual who serves as the sixth McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. He lectures on constitutional interpretation, civil liberties, philosophy of law, and political philosophy.

George is also the founder of the Witherspoon Institute, where he is the Herbert W. Vaughan senior fellow. He is also a senior fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, and is the Ronald Reagan Honorary Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and Nootbaar Honorary Distinguished Professor of Law at Pepperdine University.[1] He has frequently been a visiting professor at Harvard Law School.

Early life and education[edit]

George was born on July 10, 1955,[2] and is of Syrian and Italian descent.[3] The grandson of immigrant coal miners, he grew up in Morgantown, West Virginia.[4] George received a Bachelor of Arts from Swarthmore College, a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School, a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, and a Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University.[5]

As a doctoral student at New College, Oxford,[6] George studied the philosophy of law under the supervision of John Finnis and Joseph Raz and served as a lecturer in jurisprudence at the college. Since the completion of his DPhil, the University of Oxford has presented George with a BCL, DCL, and DLitt.[7][8][9]

Academic career[edit]

George speaking in 2014

George joined the faculty of Princeton University as an instructor in 1985, and in the following year, he became a tenure-track assistant professor. He spent 1988–89 on sabbatical leave as a visiting fellow in law at Oxford University, working on his book Making Men Moral: Civil Liberties and Public Morality. George was promoted to associate professor with tenure at Princeton in 1994 and to professor in 1999, being named to Princeton's McCormick Chair of Jurisprudence,[citation needed] an endowed professorship previously held by Woodrow Wilson, Edward S. Corwin, William F. Willoughby, and Walter F. Murphy.[10] George founded Princeton's James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions in 2000 and serves as its director.[11] While George describes the program as not ideological, articles in the media have described it as a program that fosters conservative ideals.[12][13]

Cornel West[edit]

George has been a frequent conversation partner with Cornel West, a leading left-wing public intellectual, and the two are considered close friends.[14][15][12] They have appeared together at colleges and universities around the country, arguing for civil dialogue and a broad conception of campus freedom of speech as essential to the truth-seeking mission of academic institutions.[citation needed] In March 2017, they jointly published the statement "Truth-Seeking, Democracy, and Freedom of Thought and Expression," in response to what they described as "campus illiberalism,"[16] stemming from an incident where an invited speaker and his faculty conversation partner at Middlebury College were shouted down and physically attacked; the letter was picked up by national media.[17][18][19]

Political activity[edit]

George with President George W. Bush after receiving the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2008

George twice served as Governor of the West Virginia Democratic Youth Conference, and attended the 1976 Democratic National Convention as an alternate delegate. He moved to the right in the 1980s, largely due to his views on abortion,[4] 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 large scale government-run social welfare projects in Appalachia and other low income rural and urban areas.

In 2009, George founded the American Principles Project,[20] which aimed to create a grass-roots movement around his ideas,[4] though he separated from the organization in 2016 when it embraced the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump. He is a past chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, an advocacy group opposed to same-sex marriage,[4] and co-founder of the Renewal Forum, an organization fighting the sexual trafficking and commercial exploitation of women and children.

George was one of the drafters of the 2009 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."[4] He has also joined with Muslim scholar Shaykh Hamza Yusuf in urging hotel chains and other businesses to refrain from offering or promoting pornography.[21] He has worked closely with his former student Rabbi Meir Soloveichik and with the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks of Great Britain to combat anti-Semitism. Much of George's work on religious liberty has centered on the idea that religion is a "distinct human good", which he asserts allows people to "live authentically by ordering one's life in line with one's best judgments of conscience."[22]

George was threatened with death by abortion rights extremist Theodore Shulman, who also targeted Priests for Life director Rev. Frank Pavone, saying that they would be killed if the accused killer of Dr. George Tiller (a Wichita abortion-provider) was acquitted.[23] For his crimes, Shulman was sentenced by Federal Judge Paul A. Crotty to 41 months' imprisonment and 3 years' supervised release.[24]

George endorsed U.S. Senator Ted Cruz in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries.[25] In his own words, he "fiercely opposed" the candidacy of Donald Trump, saying that he was "a person of poor character." In July 2017, after Trump had become president, George praised his nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. However, he characterized his attempts to restrict immigration to the United States from certain countries as "unnecessary and therefore unjust." He went on to say, "One thing you have to say for President Trump is that he has been fortunate in his enemies. Although he gives them plenty to legitimately criticize him about, they always go overboard and thus discredit themselves with the very people who elected Mr. Trump and may well re-elect him."[26]

Other professional and public service activities[edit]

George 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.[27] George was appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom by the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012, and in the following year was elected Chairman of the Commission. He served until hitting the statutory term limit in 2016.[27]

He is a former Judicial Fellow at the Supreme Court of the United States, receiving during his tenure there the Justice Tom C. Clark Award.[27] He has served as the U.S. member of UNESCO's World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST), of which he remains a corresponding member.[27] He is a member of the boards of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (where he is Vice-Chairman of the Board),[28] the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty,[29] the National Center on Sexual Exploitation,[30] the Center for Individual Rights, the Heritage Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation,[31] and the Academic Freedom Alliance,[32] which he co-founded in 2021. He is also a past member of the board of the American Enterprise Institute[33] and the Templeton Foundation Religion Trust.[citation needed]

He is Of Counsel to the law firm Robinson & McElwee and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.[5] George is a contributor to Touchstone, a magazine of which he is also a senior editor.[34]


In 2009, George was called the "most influential conservative Christian thinker" in the United States by David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times.[4] Kirkpatrick goes on to state:

George's admirers say he is revitalizing a strain of Catholic natural-law thinking that goes back to St. Thomas Aquinas. His scholarship has earned him accolades from religious and secular institutions alike. In one notable week a few years ago, he received invitations to deliver prestigious lectures at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Harvard Law School.

Supreme Court Justice and former Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan has 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."[35]

In announcing his election as chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2013, outgoing Chairwoman Katrina Lantos Swett, a Democrat appointed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, praised George as "a true human rights champion whose compassion for victims of oppression and wisdom about international religious freedom shine through all we have accomplished."[36] George was described by The New Yorker in 2014 as "a widely respected conservative legal philosopher" who has "played [intellectual] godfather to right-leaning students on [the Princeton] campus."[37]

George's critics, including some Catholic scholars, have argued that he has neglected critical aspects of the Christian message, including "the corruption of human reason through original sin, the need for forgiveness and charity and the chance for redemption," focusing instead on "mechanics" of morality, and – through his political associations and activism – turned the church "into a tool of Republican Party."[4]


On December 8, 2008, George was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by President George W. Bush in a ceremony in the Oval Office of the White House.[4] His other awards include the Honorific Medal for the Defense of Human Rights of the Republic of Poland, the Canterbury Medal of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Philip Merrill Award of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, the Irving Kristol Award of the American Enterprise Institute, the Sidney Hook Award of the National Association of Scholars, the Bradley Prize for Civic and Intellectual Achievement, the Paul Bator Award of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy, the Barry Prize of the American Academy of Sciences and Letters, and Princeton University's President's Award for Distinguished Teaching. He holds twenty-three honorary degrees, including a doctorate honoris causa awarded by the Universitat Abat Oliba CEU University in Barcelona. In 2017, Baylor University launched the "Robert P. George Initiative in Faith, Ethics, and Public Policy" as part of its "Baylor in Washington" program.[38] In 2020, the Initiative became a joint project of the University of Dallas and the American Enterprise Institute.[39]

Musical activity[edit]

George is a finger-style guitarist and bluegrass banjo player.[40] His guitar playing is in the style of Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed. His banjo playing has been influenced by Earl Scruggs, Don Reno, and Bela Fleck. As a teenager, he performed with folk groups and bluegrass bands in coffee houses, clubs, and state fairs,[40] and at Swarthmore, he led the band "Robby George and Friends".[41]



  • Natural Law Theory: Contemporary Essays, 1992. ISBN 978-0-19-823552-1
  • Making Men Moral, 1995. ISBN 978-0-19-826024-0
  • Natural Law and Moral Inquiry: Ethics, Metaphysics, and Politics in the Work of Germain Grisez, 1998. ISBN 978-0-87840-674-6
  • In Defense of Natural Law, 1999. ISBN 978-0-19-826771-3
  • The Autonomy of Law: Essays on Legal Positivism, 1999. ISBN 978-0-19-826790-4
  • Natural Law and Public Reason, 2000. ISBN 978-0-87840-766-8
  • Great Cases in Constitutional Law, 2000. ISBN 978-0-691-04952-6
  • The Clash of Orthodoxies, 2001. ISBN 978-1-882926-62-6
  • Natural Law, Liberalism, and Morality, 2001. ISBN 978-0-19-924300-6
  • Constitutional Politics: Essays on Constitution Making, Maintenance, and Change, 2001 ISBN 978-0-691-08869-3
  • The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market, And Morals, 2006 ISBN 978-1-890626-64-8
  • Body-Self Dualism in Contemporary Ethics and Politics, 2007 ISBN 978-0-521-88248-4
  • Embryo: A Defense of Human Life, 2008 ISBN 978-0-385-52282-3
  • Moral Pública: Debates Actuales, 2009 ISBN 978-956-8639-05-1
  • What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, 2012 ISBN 978-1594036224
  • Conscience and Its Enemies: Confronting the Dogmas of Liberal Secularism, 2013 ISBN 978-1610170703
  • Mind, Heart, and Soul: Intellectuals and the Path to Rome (with R.J. Snell), 2018 ISBN 978-1505111217


  1. ^ "Philosopher and Legal Scholar Robert George to Join Pepperdine Caruso School of Law and School of Public Policy as Honorary Distinguished Professor | Pepperdine University". Pepperdine University. March 15, 2021. Archived from the original on June 8, 2021. Retrieved June 8, 2021.
  2. ^ "About - Robert P. George". Archived from the original on September 27, 2021. Retrieved September 27, 2021.
  3. ^ Spinale, Kevin (November 7, 2011). "Full Interview with Robert P. George". America. Archived from the original on September 27, 2021. Retrieved September 27, 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Kirkpatrick, David D. (December 20, 2009). "The Conservative–Christian Big Thinker". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 28, 2020. Retrieved June 27, 2015.
  5. ^ a b "Robert P. George". Program in Law and Public Affairs. Princeton University. Archived from the original on September 22, 2021. Retrieved September 27, 2021.
  6. ^ George, Robert P. "Old School Beauty by Robert P. George". Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity. Retrieved June 3, 2023.
  7. ^ "Robert P. George receives degrees of Doctor of Civil Law (D.C.L.) and Bachelor of Civil Law (B.C.L.) from Oxford University". James Madison Program. Princeton University. Archived from the original on May 9, 2021. Retrieved December 15, 2020.
  8. ^ "Robert P. George receives Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) degree from Oxford University". James Madison Program. Princeton University.
  9. ^ "Robert P. George | Princeton Politics". Retrieved April 10, 2023.
  10. ^ "PhD Concentrations". Program in Law and Public Affairs. Princeton University. Archived from the original on January 6, 2018. Retrieved November 3, 2017.
  11. ^ "Bringing Civic Education Back to Campus | Excellence in Philanthropy". Archived from the original on July 21, 2018. Retrieved June 27, 2015.
  12. ^ a b Kirkpatrick, David D. (December 16, 2009). "The Conservative-Christian Big Thinker". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on April 28, 2020. Retrieved September 27, 2021.
  13. ^ Green, Emma (December 29, 2019). "It's a Weird Time to Be Young and Conservative". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on September 18, 2021. Retrieved September 27, 2021.
  14. ^ Bitton, Mathis (July 23, 2020). "Robert P. George, Cornel West, and Humanitas". National Review. Archived from the original on September 27, 2021. Retrieved September 27, 2021.
  15. ^ Langford, Katie (January 22, 2021). "Cornel West, Robert George discuss civility, faith and friendship at CU Boulder". Boulder Daily Camera. Retrieved September 27, 2021.
  16. ^ George, Robert P.; West, Cornel (March 14, 2017). "Sign the Statement: Truth Seeking, Democracy, and Freedom of Thought and Expression - A Statement by Robert P. George and Cornel West". James Madison Program. Archived from the original on May 24, 2020. Retrieved May 29, 2018 – via Princeton University.
  17. ^ Volokh, Eugene (March 14, 2017). "Opinion | 'Truth Seeking, Democracy, and Freedom of Thought and Expression — A Statement by Robert P. George and Cornel West'". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Archived from the original on May 24, 2022. Retrieved September 27, 2021.
  18. ^ Flaherty, Colleen (March 16, 2017). "Rejecting 'Campus Illiberalism'". Inside Higher Ed. Archived from the original on May 12, 2021. Retrieved September 27, 2021.
  19. ^ Silverbrook, Julie (October 25, 2017). "Democracy and freedom of thought: An interview with Dr. Cornel West and Dr. Robert George". The Washington Times. Archived from the original on September 27, 2021. Retrieved September 27, 2021.
  20. ^ "American Principles Project". Archived from the original on September 2, 2011. Retrieved June 27, 2015.
  21. ^ George, Robert P. (July 9, 2012). "Pornography, Respect, and Responsibility: A Letter to the Hotel Industry". Public Discourse. Archived from the original on March 11, 2020. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  22. ^ "A Guide to the Work of Robert George". Robert P. George. Archived from the original on March 25, 2016. Retrieved March 19, 2016.
  23. ^ Gearty, Robert (May 10, 2012). "Abortion extremist faces 4-year jail term". New York Daily News. Archived from the original on September 20, 2018. Retrieved June 27, 2016.
  24. ^ "'Pro-choice terrorist' sentenced for death threats against pro-lifers". Catholic News Agency. New York, NY. October 4, 2012. Archived from the original on July 21, 2021. Retrieved July 21, 2021.
  25. ^ Gibson, David (March 19, 2016). "Conservative Catholics endorse Ted Cruz as Trump alternative". Religion News. Archived from the original on July 21, 2018. Retrieved December 20, 2016.
  26. ^ Bunson, Matthew E. (July 19, 2017). "Robert George on US Society: 'Our Divisions Are Very Deep'". National Catholic Register. Archived from the original on February 27, 2018. Retrieved February 23, 2018.
  27. ^ a b c d "Robert P. George". The Witherspoon Institute. Archived from the original on September 16, 2019. Retrieved September 23, 2016.
  28. ^ "Board of Directors". Ethics and Public Policy Center. Archived from the original on September 1, 2019. Retrieved September 30, 2015.
  29. ^ "Board of Directors". The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Archived from the original on December 8, 2016. Retrieved September 30, 2015.
  30. ^ "Board". National Center on Sexual Exploitation. Archived from the original on May 8, 2021. Retrieved May 25, 2021.
  31. ^ "Board of Directors". Archived from the original on February 16, 2014. Retrieved June 27, 2015.
  32. ^ "Leadership". Academic Freedom Alliance. Retrieved May 5, 2024.
  33. ^ "Council of Academic Advisors". American Enterprise Institute (archived). Archived from the original on February 20, 2016.
  34. ^ "About Touchstone". Touchstone Magazine. Fellowship of St. James. Archived from the original on October 20, 2021. Retrieved October 20, 2021.
  35. ^ "US Senate Url Video Player". Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved June 27, 2015.
  36. ^ "Robert P. George Elected USCIRF Chair; Vice-Chairs Also Elected". Archived from the original on July 21, 2018. Retrieved February 1, 2017.
  37. ^ Toobin, Jeffrey (June 30, 2014). "The Absolutist: Ted Cruz is an unyielding debater – and the far right's most formidable advocate". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on July 15, 2014. Retrieved June 27, 2015.
  38. ^ "Baylor University to Inaugurate the Robert P. George Initiative on Faith, Ethics and Public Policy". Media and Public Relations. Baylor University. August 9, 2017. Archived from the original on June 1, 2021. Retrieved May 25, 2021.
  39. ^ "AEI Announces New Joint Lecture Series With UD". University of Dallas. Retrieved May 25, 2021.
  40. ^ a b Wolfe, Alexandra (February 24, 2017). "Robert George's Conservative Thinking in the Age of Trump". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved September 29, 2021.
  41. ^ "Watch: Cornel West and Robert George '77 Hold Collection on Campus". Swarthmore University. February 11, 2014. Retrieved September 29, 2021.

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