AHI Conference Discusses the Literary and Political Works of Mark Helprin

May 24, 2024

The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization brought together political science graduate students, alums, faculty, and friends of Baylor’s PhD program for its annual Mary and David Nichols conference on May 13 and 14. The discussion involved the literary and political works of Mark Helprin, both his short stories and his commentaries on American foreign policy and global affairs. Mr. Helprin himself attended the conference, and along with Dr. David Clinton served as discussion leader. 

Mark Helprin has published eleven novels and numerous collections of short stories and won serval prestigious awards for his works of fiction. Mr. Helprin, a former Guggenheim Fellow, has been awarded, for example, National Jewish Book Award, the Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award, and the Prix de Rome from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. The New York Times Book Review included his Winter’s Tale in 2006 on a list of the best works of American fiction published in the last twenty-five years. His political commentaries appear in such venues as The New Yorker, the Claremont Review of Books, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, The New Criterion, National Review, and American Heritage.

Mr. Helprin claims a debt to the great authors of fiction like Dante, Shakespeare, and Melville. Like them, he touches on the timeless questions. The stories from his collection, The Pacific, which the conference discussed, involved war and its cruelty and horror, the need for recovery and reconstruction, the difficulty of transmitting truths from one generation to another, the human longing for moral and aesthetic perfection, and the way that imperfection can nevertheless sustain the beauty of the cosmos and divine justice. Mr. Helprin’s stories thus teach that the world in which we live, if we can appreciate its love, loyalty, and even pathos, is “enough for us,” aware that while “we propose,” it is God who “disposes.” 

Such an awareness implicitly underlies Mr. Helprin’s writings on foreign policy, and its need for both courage and moderation. His writings encourage human effort in support of beauty and justice, especially encouraging his fellow Americans to undertake the actions necessary for their preservation and that of Western civilization.  It is in this light we can understand Mr. Helprin’s criticism of our defense spending, the consequences of our actions regarding Afghanistan and Ukraine, the threat posed to our national security by China, Russia, and Iran, and of the precarious situation faced by Israel in the Middle East, most urgently from Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran. Mr. Helprin thus warns us of the need to see what is at stake, at the very time that we are undergoing tests that call for our utmost effort.   


The conference was sponsored by the Alexander Hamilton Institute, founded in 2006 in Clinton, New York. Its charter announces in its programs proceed “on the premise that the reasoned study of Western civilization, its distinctive achievements as well as its distinctive failures, will further the search for truth and provide the ethical basis necessary for civilized life.” In accordance with this mission, the annual AHI conferences for Baylor PhD students have discussed topics from Shakespeare and Machiavelli, to Cicero, the Federalist Papers, Tocqueville, the Idea of Contract in Renaissance literature, Black political thought, Churchill, and De Gaulle, among others. 

Dr. Timothy Burns said in his opening remarks that 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

Clinton and Helprin

 organized by Mary and David Nichols, 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’s conference was organized by Dr. Burns, with the indispensable help of Jenice Langston.

Over thirty-six attended this year’s conference, including a host of current Baylor students and alums of our PhD program. Some came from as far as the University of British Columbia, Okanagan 

ahi tribute

(Catherine Craig and Christopher Ruiz) and Lakehead University in Canada (Patrick Cain). Among other graduates of our PhD program who travelled here for the conference were Jerome Foss (St. Vincent’s College), Stephen Sims (the Rochester Institute of Technology), Elizabeth Amato (Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina), Mary Mathie (the University of Texas, San Antonio), Tony Bartle (Angelo State University), Nathan Orlando (Benedictine College in Kansas), Tom Pope (Lee University in Tennessee), Elizabeth Goyette (Baylor), and Stefan Koppert (the University of Oklahoma). 

clinton ahi

Current students, alums, and friends joined in honoring David Clinton at the final dinner of the conference, their beloved teacher, mentor, and department chair who is retiring this spring. Mary and David Nichols hosted the dinner at their home in Waco. Tributes were delivered, and Dr Robert Paquette sent a moving note to Dr. Clinton, in gratitude for all he had done for the AHI conference over the years. Mary Mathie, accompanied by Elizabeth and Maria Goyette and by Steve Block on the

ahi group

 guitar, sang a comic lament about Dr. Clinton’s departure, “That’s What’s the Matter.” The students presented retirement gifts, including a stunning oil painting of Dr. Clinton’s home on Austin Avenue. The evening concluded with singing around a campfire, with the usual repertoire of Irish, folk, and country songs, and included Dr. Clinton’s performance of Gilbert and Sullivan favorites. Many of Baylor’s PhD students, alums, and colleagues who could not attend sent cards and well-wishes. Thus they were able to avoid the fate of “the gentlemen in England now a-bed,” of whom Henry V spoke at Agincourt, who “shall think themselves accursed they were not here.” 

ahi fire

They were here in spirit and in love. As Mark Helprin says, “dayenu.”