On May 9-10 at Baylor University, the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI) and the Department of Political Science, Baylor University, held their tenth annual summer conference.  Daniel Burns, Assistant Professor of Politics, University of Dallas, directed five sessions devoted to “Cicero:  Statesmanship and Constitutionalism.”  In opening the conference, Timothy Burns, Professor of Political Science and Graduate Program Director announced that hereafter the annual conference would be renamed in honor of Mary and David Nichols, two members of Baylor’s political science department whose labors have been indispensable in making the conference a showpiece for the department’s graduate program.  Mary Nichols, an emeritus professor who specializes in Hellenistic political thought, and David Nichols, a specialist in United States constitutional law and the presidency, have played  crucial roles in developing Baylor’s graduate program in political science into one of the nation’s finest. 

Click here to see photos from the 2018 conference >>

Dr. Timothy Burns read a prepared statement by AHI Executive Director Robert Paquette:

“Little more than a decade ago, on Constitution Day, the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI) announced its existence to a small group of reporters on the village square of Clinton, New York.  What started out in 2006 on sandy ground as a center at Hamilton College now thrives a mile off-campus in a stately historic mansion as an independent scholarly institute devoted to what the best and brightest in the Western tradition have said throughout the ages.

AHI, as its mission states, “proceeds 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.”  If civilized life implies the wisdom embodied in the givens of tradition, no tradition, however worthy, can grow richer or stronger by lying fallow. And so, we are here today, with the help of Professor Daniel Burns to study Cicero, one of Western culture’s greatest educators, the man whom David Hume called his indispensable “guide.”

Such a conference would seem to be a particularly propitious moment for AHI to honor two individuals who not only have stood tall and strong behind AHI from the beginning, but who have worked imaginatively and lovingly to organize the previous nine AHI-Baylor conferences that featured as panelists the department’s graduate students.  It is the fondest wish of the leadership of AHI that as long as it exists, the AHI-Baylor annual conferences will exist as a special event for the graduate program of Baylor’s Department of Political Science.  And toward that end today, the AHI announces that hereafter the conference will be named the Mary and David Nichols Annual Conference in the Great Books.

Mary and David Nichols

Friends in need; dear friends indeed. Thank you Mary and David for all you have done for AHI.”

David Clinton, Chairman of Baylor’s Department of Political Science thanked AHI.  “For years my colleagues Mary and David Nichols have been worthy partners of Bob Paquette in conceiving, organizing, and participating in the annual conference co-sponsored by AHI and the Baylor University Political Science Department in which great issues in the history and present condition of Western civilization have been discussed and elucidated.  These three scholars have offered enlightenment on a wide range of serious and foundational topics.  It is entirely appropriate that, thanks to AHI’s generosity, the series should henceforth bear the name of Professors David and Mary Nichols.  The prestige of their scholarship will ensure the success of the series for years to come.”

The annual conference mixes professor and graduate students in intensive discussion of prescribed readings.   Time is set aside at the end of each session for members of the audience to ask questions of the panelists.   Session I  “Statesmanship and Moral Excellence” and Session II “Statesmanship and the Moral Character of the Citizenry” relied on Cicero’s On Duties to explore the relation between our duties as human beings and our duties as citizens? In what way, if any, does human excellence look different for a statesman than it does for an ordinary citizen? How can political activity offer an opportunity for the exercise of the highest virtues? Can it still do this today? What is the place of virtue, honor, and glory in modern American politics?  In what ways should the statesman be concerned with the moral character of his fellow citizens? What degree of moral excellence can reasonably be expected of the average citizen? What moral qualities must citizens possess in order for their political community to be successful? What kind of tradeoffs, if any, must be made between concern for citizens’ character and the necessities of political life?”

In Session III, “The Case for the Mixed Constitution,” panelists discussed Cicero’s Republic, a dialogue on Roman politics and what form of government constitutes the best regime. “What is the strongest case that can be made for democracy, for aristocracy, and for monarchy? Why would it make sense to conclude that we need a mixture of all three? How are Cicero’s arguments similar or dissimilar to arguments made today about what form of government is best—both for our own country and for others? What would Cicero think of the American constitution?”

Session IV, “Constitutional Design,” examined Cicero’s thinking in Laws about the proper ordering of the best regime.  “How can the conflict between social classes be incorporated into and tamed by a well-designed constitution? What would the governing class of a well-designed constitutional order look like, and how would they relate to their social inferiors? Can Cicero offer us any lessons about the class structure of modern America?”

In Session V, “The Philosopher-Statesman,” the conference ended with readings from On Duties, Tusculan Disputations, On the Nature of the Gods, and Republic.  Panelists discussed the importance of philosophy to excellence in statesmanship. “Does the study of philosophy make someone more useful to his city? Is Cicero’s view a correction of Plato or an interpretation of him? Does Cicero’s personal ability to combine statesmanship with philosophy make him a model for others to follow, or an idiosyncratic exception? What kind of education is the best preparation for a life of statesmanship?”

Dr. Timothy Burns praised conference director Daniel Burns for a job well done.  A highlight of this year’s conference was the participation of professors and graduate programs from outside the discipline of political science, including Baylor’s Department of Classics.

On announcement of the conference’s renaming, Mary and David Nichols received a standing ovation.