AHI Conference on the Moral Foundations of Modern Democracy

April 19, 2023

This year’s conference was the 14th annual conference sponsored by the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization. Thirty-one participants were in attendance for the two-day event. Discussions included selections from James Wilson’s Lectures on the Law, Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution, and Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality and Social Contract.

The conference’s discussion leaders, David Clinton (Professor and Chair of Political Science at Baylor), Denise Schaeffer (Professor of Political Science at the College of the Holy Cross), and Steve Block (Senior Lecturer in Political Science at Baylor), led the group through questions of natural law and natural right, reason and the moral sense, natural independence and citizenship, the tension between the egalitarian foundations of modern democracy and the virtue and education required for its support, the different foundations of the American and British constitutional systems, and the relation between tradition and liberty.

Alums of the PhD program, from academic institutions throughout the country from Idaho to New York, were able to come to Waco for the conference. Clint Condra (Principal of the Treasure Valley Classical Academy), Stephen Sims (Assistant Professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology), Nathan Orlando (Assistant Professor and Chair of Political Science at Benedictine College), Mary Mathie (Senior Lecturer in Political Science at UT, San Antonio), and Debbie O’Malley (Associate Director of Notre Dame’s Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Studies) were welcomed by current students and faculty.

As David Clinton said in his opening remarks, the annual AHI conference constituted one of high points of the PhD program at Baylor and illustrated graduate education at its best by the civil discussion of foundational ideas and institutions. Building on the serious conversation and esprit de corps of the first ten annual conferences at the Alexander Hamilton Institute in Clinton, New York, the conference moved to Waco in 2018. At that point, Robert Paquette, Co-founder and President of the Institute, honored the conference’s organizers, David and Mary Nichols, by naming the conference, the David and Mary Nichols Conference on the Great Books. This year the conference was organized by Mary Nichols.

All are grateful for the generosity of Clifton Robinson, who provided the locations at which the conference was held, in Waco, Texas, and at Pecan Bluff, near Lake Whitney.