Robert P. George (born July 10, 1955) is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, where he lectures on constitutional interpretation, civil liberties and philosophy of law. He also serves as the director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions.
Born in Morgantown, West Virginia, George was educated at Swarthmore College (BA), Harvard Law School (JD), Harvard Divinity School (MTS), and Oxford University (DPhil). At Oxford he studied under John Finnis and Joseph Raz.
In the early 1990s, he became close to Pennsylvania Governor Robert P. Casey, an outspoken pro-life Democrat, for whom he served as an informal advisor and speech writer. When Casey established an exploratory committee to plan a challenge to President Bill Clinton in the 1996 Democratic presidential primaries, George joined his fellow Princeton professor John DiIulio as co-chairman of the issues committee. Early in the campaign, however, Casey, who had undergone heart and liver transplantation surgery, withdrew for health reasons.
George joined the faculty of Princeton University as an Instructor in 1985. The following year he became a tenure-track Assistant Professor. In 1988-89 he spent a sabbatical leave at Oxford University as a Visiting Fellow in Law, working on his book Making Men Moral: Civil Liberties and Public Morality, which was published by Oxford University Press in 1993. The book challenged key premises of contemporary liberal political philosophy, and drew praise even from thinkers working firmly within the liberal tradition. One prominent political philosopher, Jeffrie Murphy, stated that “Robert George has, I must admit, made me nervous about my commitments to liberalism.” In 1994, George was awarded tenure at Princeton and promoted to the rank of Associate Professor. In 1999, he was elevated to the rank of Professor and installed in Princeton’s McCormick Chair of Jurisprudence, a celebrated endowed professorship previously held by Woodrow Wilson, Edward S. Corwin, Alpheus T. Mason, and Walter F. Murphy. In 2000, George founded Princeton’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, of which he continues to serve as Director. The Madison Program has become a model for other innovative programs in civic education, such as the Daniel Webster Program at Dartmouth College, the Alexander Hamilton Program at NYU, and the Tocqueville Forum at Georgetown University.
George is an award-winning teacher at Princeton, where his courses are heavily subscribed and, according to the Princeton University Undergraduate Course Guide, are among the most highly rated in the university. In the spring of 2007, George joined his Princeton colleague Cornel West, a leading left-wing public intellectual, to co-teach a seminar entitled “Great Books: Ideas and Arguments”. Readings included Sophocles' Antigone, Plato's Gorgias, St. Augustine’s Confessions, Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto, Dubois’ The Souls of Black Folk, von Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks, Strauss’s Natural Right and History, and King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. The George-West collaboration drew attention both on and off campus, and was widely noted as an example of how scholars can work together across ideological lines of division to enhance the quality of higher education.
He served from 1993 to 1998 as a presidential appointee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, and from 2002 to 2009 as a member of the President's Council on Bioethics. He is a former Judicial Fellow at the Supreme Court of the United States, where he received the Justice Tom C. Clark Award. He currently serves on UNESCO’s World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST). He is a member of the boards of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the Institute for American Values, the American Enterprise Institute, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and several other organizations. He serves on the editorial boards of Touchstone, First Things, and Public Discourse magazines, as well as several academic journals. He is of counsel to the law firm of Robinson & McElwee PLLC in Charleston, West Virginia, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
He is founder of the American Principles Project, a political organization created to unite and mobilize economic, social, and foreign policy conservatives, and to make the work of scholars who challenge liberal beliefs on key issues public policy more salient in political campaigns and public debates. He is a founder and chairman of the board of the National Organization for Marriage, a non-profit organization that opposes the legal recognition of same-sex marriages. He is a founder and member of the board of the Renewal Forum, an organization that fights the sexual exploitation and commercial trafficking of women and children.
George is a prominent proponent of "New Natural Law Theory", a distinctive approach to moral, political, and legal philosophy that views moral truths as accessible to rational inquiry, and postulates as the criterion of sound ethical judgment the integral directiveness of various basic and irreducible aspects of human fulfillment, such as knowledge, friendship, critical aesthetic appreciation, and personal authenticity and integrity. Others in this school include Germain Grisez, John Finnis, and Joseph Boyle, Patrick Lee, Christopher Tollefsen, and Gerard V. Bradley.
George was involved in a highly publicized dispute with Martha Nussbaum of the University of Chicago relating to the case Romer v. Evans in which both scholars testified as experts in moral and political philosophy and civil rights. In his testimony, George cited Nussbaum’s own published work, among many other sources, as contradicting her testimony. Expanding on George’s allegations against Nussbaum, John Finnis published an article in Academic Questions making serious charges of academic dishonesty against her. Nussbaum, in an article published in the Virginia Law Review that included an appendix co-authored with classicist Kenneth Dover, rearticulated and defended her views. George then responded to Nussbaum in an article of his own in Academic Questions, noting that Nussbaum had not addressed the specific charges of dishonesty made against her. He pointed out, as one of many examples, that although she had under oath in a written submission to the court suggested that Dover in the postscript to the second edition of his book Greek Homosexuality had retracted or revised his original statements about Socrates's negative judgment of homosexual sodomy, the fact is that the postscript makes no mention or reference to Socrates whatsoever, and neither Nussbam nor Dover offered any explanation for that.
On December 10, 2008, George received the Presidential Citizens Medal, one of the highest honors that can be conferred on a civilian by the President of the United States, at a ceremony at the White House. He was one of four winners of the 2005 Bradley Awards for Civic and Intellectual Achievement. He is also a winner of the Sidney Hook Memorial Award of the National Association of Scholars and the Philip Merrill Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Liberal Arts of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. In 2007, he gave the annual John Dewey Lecture in Philosophy of Law at Harvard University, on the subject of natural law. In 2008 he gave the annual Judge Guido Calabresi Lecture at Yale University and the Sir Malcolm Knox Lecture at the University of St. Andrews. George holds honorary doctorates of law, letters, science, civil law, humane letters, ethics, and juridical science.
George, a Roman Catholic, has influenced some Protestant and Jewish scholars and religious leaders, as well as Roman Catholics. Under the auspices of the Institute on Religion and Public Life, he has worked closely with such figures as the late Father Richard John Neuhaus and Rabbi David Novak, whose 2009 book In Defense of Religious Liberty is dedicated to George. His natural law arguments for traditional moral principles have frequently been invoked by evangelical Christian figures such as James Dobson and Charles Colson.
In November 2009, George, who was one of its drafters, signed an ecumenical statement known as the Manhattan Declaration calling on evangelicals, Catholics and Orthodox not to comply with rules and laws forcing them to accept abortion, same-sex marriage and other matters that go against their religious consciences.