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Are we to take America’s founding seriously and learn from it, or are we to turn our backs on it and start on a different route? This question, asked by many Americans today, was posed to the Benedictine College community by Dr. William B. Allen, who joined students, faculty, and staff via zoom to present on the moral leadership and historical legacy of our nation’s first president. This lecture was co-hosted by Benedictine College’s Center for Constitutional Liberty and its Honors Program.
Dr. Allen is an American political scientist and leader who has played many roles throughout his career. He served as the chair of the United States Commission on Civil Rights from 1988-1989, acting as a member of the commission until 1992. He has worked as a faculty in various capacities at Michigan State University, Villanova, Princeton, and University of Colorado Boulder. He is an expert on the Federalists, early American thought, and especially George Washington.
Despite being present over Zoom, Dr. Allen gave a dynamic presentation, including engagement with Benedictine students through an insightful question and answer session. Allen drew on his expertise throughout the whole presentation, using discussion about George Washington to ignite a broader examination of the way Americans treat the founding of their country. He wisely observed to attendees that “it may be useful for us not to second guess the past, but simply to listen to the past, to let it speak for itself.”
Benedictine senior Jack Niederee attended Dr. Allen’s talk and benefitted from it, despite being bound for medical school, not politics or law. He said that Allen’s “insights into the founding relate to anyone regardless of field of study, since man is political by nature.” Niederee was especially struck by Allen’s characterization of Washington as the “Socrates of America.” Niederee learned that Washington is arguably “the greatest and most important founder, not just as general and president, but also as a leader in moral and political matters.”
In his presentation, Dr. Allen noted that George Washington dedicated this country to a mission: to make America a home for the poor and oppressed of all countries and religions. Though this language of hospitality seems commonplace today, Washington wholeheartedly believed in this cause, in opposition to the consensus of the majority. He came to this belief through his own strength of character and exemplary moral leadership.
From its conception, Washington began to transform the very building blocks of American society. Dr. Allen urged Benedictine students to continue doing the same by letting George Washington be a witness and guide in their efforts to transform culture in America.