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I didn’t under­stand Hillsdale College when I was a freshman. Then I dis­covered a book that changed every­thing.

I came here because I thought it would help me advance in Repub­lican Party pol­itics, but everyone at freshman con­vo­cation and other ori­en­tation events spoke about liberal edu­cation and the Honor Code. Aside from the statues of Ronald Reagan and Mar­garet Thatcher, Hillsdale didn’t seem like a very political place those first few days.

Later that semester, I read Plato’s “Republic” in Pro­fessor of Phi­losophy Nathan Schlueter’s Intro­duction to Phi­losophy course. It was dif­ficult to read and follow — I never read a Pla­tonic dia­logue during my public school edu­cation. I was bored and con­fused, and I didn’t quite know what to make of this strange book I had to read.

Then one day, while Schlueter was lec­turing on the first book of the “Republic,” I had a rev­e­lation: I was Thrasy­machus.

The first book con­sists partly of a great debate between Socrates and one of his most famous inter­locutors, the sophist Thrasy­machus. Attempting to win over Plato’s brother Glaucon and Adeimantus as stu­dents, Thrasy­machus argues that justice is merely the advantage of the stronger. Socrates tries to save his stu­dents’ souls from this rel­a­tivism by proposing that justice is some­thing more per­manent.

That day in class, I realized I had my pri­or­ities all wrong. Hillsdale isn’t about being pow­erful in con­ser­v­ative political circles, it’s about liberal edu­cation. I came to the right place for the wrong reasons, but Plato saved me from remaining a little Thrasy­machus forever.

Since then, I’ve read the “Republic” all the way through more than any other single book — four times, to be exact. I’ve read it to under­stand Plato’s political science, I’ve read it to under­stand his anthro­pology, and I’ve read it to shed light on other great texts. Through each of my four readings, I’ve learned not just about Plato’s phi­losophy — I also learned about what it means to be human.

Through the core cur­riculum, every Hillsdale student should acquire a broad famil­iarity with the texts of the Western tra­dition. Each of us will encounter books and authors who raise those ques­tions about how we live. They’re worth reading because they teach us truths about the human soul. But, one of these texts, like the “Republic” for me, may speak to your soul with a par­tic­u­larly loud voice.

My advice: Make that book your own. Read it, and reread it until you become an expert of the text. A broad under­standing of the Western tra­dition is a good thing — that’s why we have the core. But a deep under­standing of certain problems and ques­tions that are rel­evant to your own life is important too.

Reading a great text once is a good thing, but a single reading will never give a reader a com­pre­hensive under­standing of the work. Through reading and rereading the “Republic,” I’ve come to realize just how deep a text it is. Each time through I notice some new artistry of Plato’s I hadn’t before.

But even more than that, each time I read the dia­logue I marvel at the time­lessness of Plato’s idea. At dif­ferent stages of my life, I realize I can apply Plato’s truths about the human soul to my own life in dif­ferent ways.

Men as great as Sec­retary of Defense James Mattis have learned this lesson and live by it. He carried a copy of Marcus Aurelius’s “Med­i­ta­tions” with him on each of his overseas deploy­ments as a Marine Corps officer. While facing some of the most dif­ficult life-and-death sit­u­a­tions a man could endure, Mattis wanted to keep the lessons of that book near his heart because the “Med­i­ta­tions” cap­tivate him. His great book is a source of strength and courage.

You owe it to yourself to find a text that speaks to you in that way. It doesn’t matter if it’s Jane Austen or Saint Augustine, “Hamlet” or the “Odyssey.” Let a great author invade your soul and occupy it. Go find your book; it will change your life.

 

Michael Luc­chese is a senior majoring in American Studies