Robert P. George

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Robert P. George
Robert P. George by Gage Skidmore.jpg
Robert Peter George

(1955-07-10) July 10, 1955 (age 66)
EducationSwarthmore College (BA)
Harvard University (MTS, JD)
New College, Oxford (PhD)
AwardsPresidential Citizens Medal
Canterbury Medal
Irving Kristol Award
Philip Merrill Award
Bradley Prize
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
InstitutionsPrinceton University
Doctoral advisorJohn Finnis

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, a Catholic, is considered one of the country's leading conservative intellectuals.[1]

In addition to his professorship at Princeton, he is the Herbert W. Vaughan senior fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, a research fellow at the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture, and the Ronald Reagan Honorary Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and Nootbaar Honorary Distinguished Professor of Law at Pepperdine University.[2] He has frequently been a Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School.

Early life and education[edit]

George was born on July 10, 1955, and is of Syrian and Italian descent.[3][4] He grew up in Morgantown, West Virginia,[5] the grandson of immigrant coal miners. He was educated at Swarthmore College (BA), Harvard Law School (JD), Harvard Divinity School (MTS), and New College, Oxford (DPhil).[6] As a doctoral student at Oxford, he studied philosophy of law under the supervision of John Finnis and Joseph Raz, and served as a Lecturer in Jurisprudence in New College. He was awarded the honorary degrees of BCL, DCL, and DLitt from Oxford.[7][8]

Academic career[edit]

George speaking in 2014

George joined the faculty of Princeton University as an instructor in 1985, and in the following year 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 (1993, Oxford University Press). 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, a celebrated endowed professorship previously held by Woodrow Wilson, Edward S. Corwin, Alpheus T. Mason, William F. Willoughby, and Walter F. Murphy.[9]

George founded Princeton's James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions in 2000 and is still serving as its director.[10] Since 2007, George has been teaching undergraduate seminars on leading thinkers in Western intellectual history with friend and colleague Cornel West, a leading left-wing public intellectual;[11] readings have included Sophocles's Antigone, Plato's Gorgias, Augustine of Hippo's Confessions, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels's The Communist Manifesto, W. E. B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk, Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, Antonio Gramsci's Prison Notebooks, Leo Strauss's Natural Right and History, C. S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man, and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail".[12] The George-West collaboration – allowing only 18 students, many fewer than want to attend[13] – has drawn attention on campus and in the national media.[14] In 2017, George and West did a three-hour interview together on C-Span's "Book Notes." They have also 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. In March 2017, they jointly published the statement "Truth-Seeking, Democracy, and Freedom of Thought and Expression," which has been signed by several thousand professors, students, academic administrators and others.[15] In April 2019, George and West participated in an "assembly series" discussion at Washington University in St. Louis titled "Liberal Arts Education: What’s The Point?".[16]

Other professional and public service activities[edit]

George is of counsel to the law firm of Robinson & McElwee PLLC in Charleston, West Virginia.[17]

George served from 1993–1998 as a presidential appointee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, and from 2002–2009 as a member of the President's Council on Bioethics.[6] 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.[6]

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.[6] 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.[6] He is a member of the boards of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (where he is Vice-Chairman of the Board),[18] the American Enterprise Institute,[19] the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty,[20] the National Center on Sexual Exploitation,[21] the Center for Individual Rights, the Heritage Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation,[22] and the Templeton Foundation Religion Trust. George is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.[23]

George has served or serves on the editorial boards of the American Journal of Jurisprudence, the Journal of American Political Thought, National Affairs, Touchstone and the editorial advisory board of First Things.[24][25]

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,[5] 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. George founded the American Principles Project,[26] which aims to create a grass-roots movement around his ideas.[5] He is a past chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, an advocacy group opposed to same-sex marriage,[5] 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."[5] He has also joined with Muslim scholar Shaykh Hamza Yusuf in urging hotel chains and other businesses to refrain from offering or promoting pornography.[27] 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 in Europe. Along with other public intellectuals, George played a key role in creating the "theoconservative" movement and integrating it into mainstream Republicanism.[28] 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."[29]

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.[30] For his crimes, Shulman was sentenced by Federal Judge Paul A. Crotty to 41 months' imprisonment and 3 years' supervised release.[31]

George endorsed Texas Senator Ted Cruz in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries.[32] 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."[33]


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.[5] 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 Paul Bator Award of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy, and Princeton University's President's Award for Distinguished Teaching. He holds nineteen honorary degrees, including a Doctor Honoris Causa awarded by the Universitat Abat Oliba CEU University in Barcelona, Spain in 2017.[citation needed] Also in 2017, Baylor University launched the "Robert P. George Initiative in Faith, Ethics, and Public Policy," as part of its Baylor in Washington, D.C. program.[34] In 2020, the Initiative became a joint project of the University of Dallas and the American Enterprise Institute.[35]


In 2009, George was called the "most influential conservative Christian thinker" in the United States by David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times.[5] 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 two 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."[36]

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."[37] 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."[38]

George's critics, including many 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."[5]

Musical activity[edit]

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 has performed with folk singer Ed Trickett, country music pioneer Stan Hitchcock,[citation needed] and the New Jersey-based bluegrass band Blue Heart.[39]



  • Natural Law Theory: Contemporary Essays, 1992. ISBN 0-19-823552-6
  • Making Men Moral, 1995. ISBN 0-19-826024-5
  • Natural Law and Moral Inquiry: Ethics, Metaphysics, and Politics in the Work of Germain Grisez, 1998. ISBN 0-87840-674-3
  • In Defense of Natural Law, 1999. ISBN 0-19-826771-1
  • The Autonomy of Law: Essays on Legal Positivism, 1999. ISBN 0-19-826790-8
  • Natural Law and Public Reason, 2000. ISBN 0-87840-766-9
  • Great Cases in Constitutional Law, 2000. ISBN 0-691-04952-1
  • The Clash of Orthodoxies, 2001. ISBN 1-882926-62-5
  • Natural Law, Liberalism, and Morality, 2001. ISBN 0-19-924300-X
  • Constitutional Politics: Essays on Constitution Making, Maintenance, and Change, 2001 ISBN 0-691-08869-1
  • The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market, And Morals, 2006 ISBN 1-890626-64-3
  • Body-Self Dualism in Contemporary Ethics and Politics, 2007 ISBN 978-0-521-88248-4
  • Embryo: A Defense of Human Life, 2008 ISBN 0-385-52282-7
  • 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


  • "Law, Democracy, and Moral Disagreement", Harvard Law Review, Vol. 110, pp. 1388–1406 (1997)
  • "Public Reason and Political Conflict: Abortion and Homosexual Acts", Yale Law Journal, Vol. 106, pp. 2475–2504 (1997)
  • "The Concept of Public Morality", American Journal of Jurisprudence, Vol. 45, pp. 17–31 (2000)
  • "Human Cloning and Embryo Research", Journal of Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics, Vol. 25, No. 1, pp. 3–20 (2004)
  • George, Robert P. (March 20, 2009). "He Threw It All Away". First Things. Retrieved July 20, 2009.


  1. ^ Kirkpatrick, David D. (December 16, 2009). "Robert P. George, the Conservative–Christian Big Thinker" – via
  2. ^ "Philosopher and Legal Scholar Robert George to Join Pepperdine Caruso School of Law and School of Public Policy as Honorary Distinguished Professor | Pepperdine University". Retrieved June 8, 2021.
  3. ^ "Robert George Transcript".
  4. ^ "Robert P. George on Natural Law, Our Universities, & Social Conservatism". Conversations with Bill Kristol – via
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Kirkpatrick, David D. (December 20, 2009). "The Conservative–Christian Big Thinker". The New York Times. Retrieved June 27, 2015.
  6. ^ a b c d e "Robert P. George". The Witherspoon Institute. Retrieved September 23, 2016.[dead link]
  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 – via Princeton University.
  8. ^ "Robert P. George receives Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) degree from Oxford University". James Madison Program – via Princeton University.
  9. ^ "PhD Concentrations". Retrieved November 3, 2017.
  10. ^ "Bringing Civic Education Back to Campus | Excellence in Philanthropy". Retrieved June 27, 2015.
  11. ^ Dyson, Michael Eric (2015). "The Ghost of Cornel West," The New Republic, April 19. Retrieved 2016-4-13.
  12. ^ University, Princeton. "Course Details – Office of the Registrar". Retrieved January 2, 2018.
  13. ^ Robert George, 2015, "Conscience and Its Enemies: Confronting the Dogmas of Liberal Secularism," C-SPAN2:Book TV at Princeton University, March 21, 2015.[full citation needed]
  14. ^ Eric Quiñones (April 5, 2007). "Princeton University – Wrestling with great books and ideas". Retrieved June 27, 2015.
  15. ^ 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 – via Princeton University.
  16. ^ "Liberal Arts Education: What's The Point? Cornel West & Robert George in Conversation". Center for the Humanities. March 7, 2019. Retrieved August 26, 2019.
  17. ^ "Robert P. George". Robinson & McElwee, PLLC. Retrieved July 21, 2021 – via
  18. ^ "Board of Directors". Ethics and Public Policy Center. Retrieved September 30, 2015.
  19. ^ "Council of Academic Advisors". American Enterprise Institute. Retrieved September 30, 2015.
  20. ^ "Board of Directors". The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Retrieved September 30, 2015.
  21. ^ "Board". National Center on Sexual Exploitation. Retrieved May 25, 2021.
  22. ^ "Board of Directors". Archived from the original on February 16, 2014. Retrieved June 27, 2015.
  23. ^ "Membership Roster". Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved September 30, 2015.
  24. ^ "About Touchstone". Retrieved September 30, 2015.
  25. ^ "Masthead". First Things. Archived from the original on October 1, 2015. Retrieved September 30, 2015.CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  26. ^ "American Principles Project". Retrieved June 27, 2015.
  27. ^ George, Robert P. (July 9, 2012). "Pornography, Respect, and Responsibility: A Letter to the Hotel Industry". Public Discourse. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  28. ^ Sullivan, Andrew. The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back. New York: HarperCollins, 2006; ISBN 9780060188771.[page needed]
  29. ^ "A Guide to the Work of Robert George". Robert P. George.
  30. ^ Gearty, Robert (May 10, 2012). "Abortion extremist faces 4-year jail term". New York Daily News. Retrieved June 27, 2016.
  31. ^ "'Pro-choice terrorist' sentenced for death threats against pro-lifers". Catholic News Agency. New York, NY. October 4, 2012.
  32. ^ Gibson, David (March 19, 2016). "Conservative Catholics endorse Ted Cruz as Trump alternative". Religion News. Retrieved December 20, 2016.
  33. ^ Bunson, Matthew E. (July 19, 2017). "Robert George on US Society: 'Our Divisions Are Very Deep'". National Catholic Register. Retrieved February 23, 2018.
  34. ^ "Baylor University to Inaugurate the Robert P. George Initiative on Faith, Ethics and Public Policy". Media and Public Relations. Baylor University. August 9, 2017. Retrieved May 25, 2021.
  35. ^ "AEI Announces New Joint Lecture Series With UD". University of Dallas. Retrieved May 25, 2021.
  36. ^ "US Senate Url Video Player". Retrieved June 27, 2015.
  37. ^ "Robert P. George Elected USCIRF Chair; Vice-Chairs Also Elected". Retrieved February 1, 2017.
  38. ^ Toobin, Jeffrey (June 30, 2014). "The Absolutist: Ted Cruz is an unyielding debater – and the far right's most formidable advocate". The New Yorker. Retrieved June 27, 2015.
  39. ^[permanent dead link]

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