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james schall

What prompted this blog is that not long ago, a professor I have tremendous respect for stated in an interview that there are few, if any great essayist alive and writing today. If I understood him correctly, I disagree. If I misunderstood him, I apologize. In either case, I wanted to write a blog (not an essay) about my favorite living Liberal Arts professor. There are some odd things about him being my favorite.

Professor James Schall is Roman Catholic (actually Father Schall is in the Jesuit order) and I am not. Professor Schall is a Professor of Political Science and yet a genius of Liberal Arts. I am a Professor of Great Books and when he writes of Great Books (it is obvious he has read many) he warns of the temptation of relativism. Mortimer Adler and others also warned of such things and they are right in their warnings. I have never heard a single lecture by Dr. Schall but have read over a thousand pages he has penned. In one essay he speaks about the mystery of people who have taught him and yet he has never met them. Dr. Schall is such a teacher for me. We did have one brief email exchange once about Great Books and in his gracious tone he told me to proceed with caution.

I have for several years now required some of my graduate students in a Great Books program I oversee to read select essays by Dr. Schall. I always get the same reaction. The students speak about how much they have learned in only a few pages of print. Dr. Schall moves from Scripture to Thomas Aquinas, to Peanuts (that is correct, Peanuts the comic strip), to discussions about metaphysics, science, the economy, and our muddled political milieu with the greatest of ease. My theory is that he is able to do this, because he has the wisdom that can come with the best of a Liberal Arts education.

In addition, to offering delightful insights on just about every page, Dr. Shall provides reading lists of books that have shaped the way he thinks. I suspect that he has read more books than many in our increasingly bookless society have seen. Dr. Schall writes with clarity, grace, wit, and wisdom. I hope I have learned much from him, and if I have then I thank him for being one of my best teachers, and he is indeed my favorite teacher I never had for a single class.

The books in the above picture are:

  • The Modern Age (grand insights into our dark moment)
  • On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs (for those needing clarity on why wasting time can be virtuous)
  • The Life of the Mind (for those with a mind looking for furniture to place in it)
  • Another Sort of Learning (for those who have yet to learn despite all their learning)
  • A Student’s Guide to the Liberal Arts (for any and every student who will ever attend a modern university)
  • *The Classic Moment (not pictured, but will be purchased and read as soon as released)

Books by Fr. James Schall may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. 

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2 replies to this post
  1. No. Relativism is believing in nothing, by claiming to believe in everything. If you believe in nothing, there’s no point in doing anything, and, over time, the fabric of civilization frays and fades. Humans need a good reason to do things. Civilization is hard, because it requires one to act civilized. Those incentives generally involve a conviction in a transcendent ideal. But because we don’t need transcendental ideals to survive, we tend to assume that they are disposable like everything else. Once that happens on a wide scale, epochs end.

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