Rachelle Peterson: On why he and faithful Pilgrims left Leiden to sail by the Mayflower across the Atlantic to Plymouth in late fall 1620, William Bradford wrote, “All great & honourable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and must be both enterprised and overcome with answerable courages…. All of them, through the help of God, by fortitude and patience, might either be borne, or overcome.” A year later, at the first Thanksgiving, Bradford could credit God and courageous enterprise for bringing Plymouth Colony to a plentiful harvest. This year, I’m thankful for the men and women of “answerable courages” who have fought difficult battles to preserve higher education. Harry Elliott and a team of courageous Stanford students fought to restore a Western Civilization course requirement. Owen Wiggins and his colleagues at the U Mass Amherst University Union sponsor debates on controversial topics, such as racial preferences in university admissions. Many NAS members are fighting for the great books and Western Civilization. Higher education needs much more reforming; it has not earned a thorough Thanksgiving yet. But I take heart, because the fortitude and patience of scholars who love intellectual freedom and the pursuit of truth will triumph in the end.
Spencer Kashmanian: One of my heroes is Russell Kirk, whose The Conservative Mind (1953) I read in college. In his memoirs, Kirk shares an amusing anecdote about the young Robert Maynard Hutchins. A decade before he came to fame as president of the University of Chicago, Hutchins applied for an English literature post at St. Stephen’s (now Bard) college.
In his interview with Bernard Iddings Bell—Episcopal priest, conservative thinker, and president of St. Stephen’s—young Hutchins struck a note of self-assurance. He told Bell that he wanted to make enough money to put himself through law school. Knowing that Hutchins came from a well-connected family, Bell asked Hutchins why he didn’t just borrow the money from one of his father’s wealthy friends and repay the sum when he was a successful lawyer. “Because,” said Hutchins, “I don’t mean to be obligated to anyone.”
“Then, Mr. Hutchins,” replied Bell, “we don’t want you at St. Stephen’s.”
“Why not?” Hutchins angrily responded.
“Because, Mr. Hutchins, we don’t want anyone in this college who is too proud to be obligated to anybody.”
Bell was reminding Hutchins that the proper posture for liberal learning is one of thanksgiving—a lesson that NAS knows well. To drink from the well of the liberal arts—to learn from the best that has been said and done before us—is a bounteous inheritance.
This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful to be obligated to many people: to my fellow countrymen; to my colleagues at NAS; to teachers and mentors; to neighbors and friends; and to my family. I’ve been given far more than I’ve earned, and for this I am thankful.
David Randall: I am thankful for many loving kindnesses this year I have received this year from family and friends—and not least for kindnesses I have received from many people as I do my work. To my colleagues at NAS, of course—but also to all sorts of people I’ve never seen. I’ve written some reports at work this year, and each time I’ve depended on information from faculty and university staff, many of whom have given me far more help than an inquisitive stranger can expect. I’ve sent in a manuscript to a university press, and gotten extraordinarily generous feedback from the unknown Peer Reviewers. I’ve been in touch with all sorts of members of NAS, for a score of different reasons, and received generous, thoughtful replies from my correspondents. You can’t expect a job to be a pleasure, but I’ve found mine to be so—because the world of academia is still full of everyday goodwill. For that I am thankful.
Ashley Thorne: When George Washington gave his Thanksgiving Proclamation in New York City in 1789, he spoke with gratitude to God “for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness.” Washington’s tranquil view seems not to fit with recent history: America as a nation was established only after a bitter and bloody revolution which had ended only six years before. It certainly puts in perspective whatever civic unrest we’ve come through in 2016.
And so this year, I’m thankful for a country that values peaceable and rational means for setting up and maintaining our self-government. I’m thankful for NAS which tirelessly champions “reasoned scholarship in a free society” at a time when this ideal is so needed. I’m thankful for NAS members, whose courage and steadfastness continually amaze me. I’m particularly grateful for those who give financially so that these principles and these brave individuals can be heard.
Personally I thank God for a loving husband, family, and community of friends. Most of all, I am thankful this year for God’s sovereignty. He is, as Washington affirmed, “that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.”
Glenn Ricketts: I am very, VERY thankful that this year’s election cycle has concluded, and I’m a political science professor. I’m thankful in particular that I may actually get a breather from student inquiries asking me to make sense of it. But I’m also very thankful to live in a country that guarantees the right of Trump supporters to celebrate and anti-Trump protestors to demonstrate. I’m very thankful for the Constitution under which president-elect Trump will be required to guarantee that those currently knocking him so roundly can continue to do so without worry. In many countries even today, the losers aren’t nearly so fortunate. I’m thankful that the same system enables the National Association of Scholars to continue its advocacy for higher education reform freely. Above all, I’m most thankful for a national holiday that exhorts me to give thanks, since I’m compelled to stop fretting for just a bit and realize that I really don’t have it so bad at all.
Image Credit: Public Domain.