Judging by the turnout at the Open House and Constitution Day celebration on September 18, the 2016/2017 academic year will be a stellar one for the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI). The event opened with a period of socializing over hors d’oeuvres and drinks and then moved to the Presidential Room for a featured presentation by Douglas Ambrose, AHI Charter Fellow and award-winning professor, who spoke on “Alexander Hamilton and the Perils of Posterity.”
This year’s event drew a large turnout of AHI Undergraduate Fellows, Hamilton College students, and friends of AHI from the local and college community. AHI Executive Director, Professor Robert Paquette, delivered his welcoming remarks to a standing room-only crowd. He announced several major upcoming events: Dr. Janice Hauge, Hamilton alum (class of 1988), North Texas University economics professor, and former Marine, will deliver the fourth annual General Josiah S. Bunting III Veterans Day Lecture on November 11. Kim Strassel, Wall Street Journal columnist, will speak in November on her new book The Intimidation Game: How the Left Is Silencing Free Speech.
Professor Paquette also announced reading groups for this semester. Professor Ambrose’s “Serving Two Masters: God and Mammon in American Christianity” will explore the ways the religious convictions of Christian Americans from the colonial era to today have informed and influenced their economic behavior and economic thought, and will include writings from the Gospels, the Church Fathers, major Christian thinkers from the medieval and early modern era, Tocqueville, Andrew Carnegie, and some lesser known American Christians both clerical and lay.
A year-long pre-law reading group on F.A. Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty (1960) will be led by Professor Paquette and AHI fellows David Frisk and Chris Hill. While most may associate Hayek with his popular Road to Serfdom and Constitution of Liberty, Hayek’s magnum opus, is considered as one of the most important works of non-fiction published in the twentieth century. Dr. Frisk calls Hayek “one of the central figures in the development of Austrian School economics and the field of law and economics, [and also an] impressive historian, political theorist, and social psychologist.” His Constitution provides “an impressive foundational knowledge with which to address many fields of endeavor.”
More reading groups are planned for the spring semester, including one on Thucydides led by Dr. Beth L’Arrivee, a visiting professor at Colgate University. Dr. L’Arrivee will also be working with the AHI to organize at Colgate University during the spring semester the prestigious Annual Undergraduate Conference on the American Polity.
Several AHI Undergraduate Fellows gave visiting students a taste of the opportunities and relationships available through the AHI by describing their own experiences. Sam Grauberger, who was one of three Hamilton students participating in the AHI’s inaugural WAPONS program (Washington Program on National Security), described his experience as “phenomenal”–no small praise considering the fact that he grew up in the Washington, D.C., area, and came into frequent contact with Washingtonians of influence through his parents. He was impressed by the introductions to people working in national security, such as Eric Hannis, Todd Leventhal, and Josh Carter, and by hearing “brilliant people” at such places as the CATO Institute, American Foreign Policy Council, and the Heritage Foundation.
Senior Amy Elinski, staff writer for the AHI-sponsored student newsletter Enquiry and former summer AHI intern, announced her plans to start a national security club on campus. Elinski who spent the fall 2015 semester working at the NCIS (the Naval Criminal Investigative Services) said, “I am very passionate about national security.” She wants to sponsor a panel, with a Hamilton alum, taught by Paquette and Ambrose, who now has a career in the FBI, to introduce Hamilton students to careers in national security.
Senior Taylor Elicegui, who is currently working for New York Assemblywoman Kim Myers, Democratic candidate for the 22nd Congressional District, related an experience she had at the 2015 Carl Menges Colloquium. At Professor Paquette’s suggestion, she was seated next to keynote speaker, Michael Munger, Professor of Political Science, Duke University, and Director of the Duke Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Program. She opened the conversation by asking Professor Munger about the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court case and learned to her great surprise that he had written the brief for the winning side!
Senior Alex Klosner who worked this summer for Kim Myers’ opponent, Republican candidate Claudia Tenney, enthusiastically encouraged students to become involved with AHI and to ignore rumors on campus. “You may have heard that it is the place for old, white people,” he said, adding, to laughter, “I am neither.” Alex has been involved with AHI since his freshman year and is a leader in the AHI Undergraduate Program. He credits AHI with nurturing his intellectual growth and opening the door to a Charles Koch fellowship last year.
Professor Paquette then introduced Professor Ambrose, saying, “I take great pride in helping to get him to Hamilton [in 1990].” (Both were students of the late Eugene Genovese.) In his lecture on Alexander Hamilton, Ambrose, who has won several teaching awards, demonstrated what Paquette humorously called his “performance artist” talents–the ability to enliven and make complex bodies of material understandable (but, as students attested, not to any diminished demands on their papers.)
In a 30-minute engaging lecture Ambrose discussed the meaning of fame in the context of eighteenth-century ideals of reputation, honor, and posterity–and how it differed from today’s notion of celebrity or power. The founding fathers were “men who were looking for secular immortality” and a legacy of benefit to humanity. Hamilton imbibed these ideals even as an orphaned teenager and expressed his desires to make his mark on posterity by proving himself in war in a letter written at age 14. Such principles help to explain the famous duel with Aaron Burr. Hamilton saw Burr as a man without principle, corrupted and self-indulgent, a vulgar man who put the satisfaction of his appetites above the public good.
Ambrose focused on two key pieces of Hamilton’s often overlooked writing. Three letters written at age 21 signed “Publius” attacked Samuel Chase and praised Julius Caesar as the founder of the Roman Empire. Hamilton in his pamphlet on the Reynolds affair defended himself by laying out in detail the legal argument against charges of public fraud. He admitted to succumbing to the romantic seductions of James Reynolds’ wife in order to clear his name and remove the “more serious stain”: the violation of the public trust.
Professor Paquette commented that such events that combine socializing and intellectual stimulation speak to the AHI’s mission of securing liberty by educating America’s citizenry. “In speaking on the values that motivated Alexander Hamilton’s behavior at moments of crisis,” said Paquette, “Professor Ambrose spoke to questions of identity that are too often ignored or deconstructed into nothingness in politicized courses on college campuses. Hamilton sought the immortality conferred by honor and reputation. He stands as one of the most outstanding examples of meritocracy during an age of revolution.”
Paquette closed out the event by inviting all to partake of the many activities and events AHI will offer throughout year. Professor Ambrose’s reading group will meet initially this Friday, September 23, at noon on the Hamilton College campus. The Hayek group will meet weekly, beginning Sunday, September 25, at 7:00 p.m., in room 2048 of the Taylor Science Center on campus.
As with most AHI events, the reading groups are open to the public.