George, West to advocate for friendship across political divide

Screenshot 2023-06-25 at 10.41.21 PM

Kaitlyn Finchler
Staff writer

One of the more interesting — and politically conflicting — duos of the century will join Chautauquans to open a week on friendship as they discuss how they maintain theirs, why they do, and why people shouldn’t take friendships for granted.

Robert P. George, Princeton University’s McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program, returns to Chautauqua to open the season of morning lectures at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater. He is joined by someone he considers a brother: Cornel West, the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Chair at Union Theological Seminary

Arguably two of the foremost public intellectuals in American life, from two different schools of thought, George and West maintain their friendship through learning and conversation.

“They have taken this show on the road before so we knew they were a good pair,” said Jordan Steves, interim Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education. “We thought it was a particularly appropriate note. … you have these two men who are best friends but come from very different ideological points on the spectrum.”

And on Sunday, Steves said, the two literally took their show on the road; after George and West’s flight was canceled, they rented a car to make the trip to Chatuauqua together.

When planning the week, Steves said the programming department asked the two to demonstrate this dynamic through tips and advice on how to navigate relationships that may have been or are becoming difficult as the national mood has “soured” politically.

“We can learn from each other because we don’t go into it convinced that we absolutely know the truth infallibly,” George told the Daily in 2022. “I learn from Cornel all the time, and he says he learns from me all the time.”

George, who spoke on the Interfaith Lecture Series platform last summer, has long disliked labels, particularly in the political sphere — liberal, conservative, socialist, etc.

“If we have to have these broad categories, certainly (West) is more on the progressive (and) I’m more on the conservative (side),” George told the Daily last summer. “He is the honorary co-chairman of Democratic Socialists of America. I’m a critic of socialism.”

The two men are certainly “in different places,” George said in his 2022 interview, and yet “I recognize and honor him and he recognizes and honors things as true truths. That is more fundamental than any difference of politics between us.”

Both truth-seeking individuals, George said they “agree 100%” when it comes to freedom of speech and freedom of thought.

“Here you find two guys, (from) different places on the political spectrum, both arguing strenuously for very robust conceptions of free speech,” George said in a 2022 interview with the Daily, “for the sake of both academic learning in colleges and universities, and for the health of the democratic republic.”

George and West joined “The Gloria Purvis Podcast” February of this year to discuss Black history, resistance and joy during Black History Month. In that conversation, George told the story of when he was sworn in as chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. He asked West if he would hold the Bible for him.

“He kindly agreed to come along to the ceremony and hold the Bible for me,” George said on the podcast. “But I wanted there to be a special Bible, a Bible associated with the noble cause of human rights.”

A great admirer of Harriet Tubman, George reached out to the Harriet Tubman House and asked to borrow Tubman’s Bible. 

“The lady on the other end of the phone said, ‘Well, we do have that Bible.’ And I detected just a little hesitance in her voice,” George said on the podcast. “And I can understand — sending a relic like that down in the mail to somebody you don’t even know.”

He then mentioned West would be the person holding the Bible and “she immediately said, ‘Oh yes, we’d be very happy to send that Bible there.’ ”

In a March 2023 Fox News interview, West said George isn’t just a friend, he’s a member of the family — and sometimes “family can be wrong and you still love them and I’m wrong about some things.”

“The world needs to know that you’re looking at two brothers who have a deep love of each other, even as there’s disagreement on certain political and policy issues,” West told Fox News.


The author Kaitlyn Finchler

Kaitlyn Finchler is a journalism and public relations graduate from Kent State University as of May. This will be her second summer at Chautauqua where she will cover literary arts, serving previously as the Interfaith Lecture Series preview reporter. In her free time, you can find her reading, cooking or flipping between “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Gossip Girl.” She’s most excited to see how many times she can slip the word “plethora” into her stories before Sara makes her stop again.