Nearly 800 people, including Hillsdale students and professors, gathered at the University of Notre Dame this weekend for the 19th annual Center for Ethics and Culture fall conference.
The theme of the conference, held on Nov. 1, was rooted in Russian philosopher Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s teachings on the proper relationship between God, the human person, and the state.
Associate Professor of English Dwight Lindley said the title of the conference, ‘Higher Powers,’ came directly from a quote by Solzhenitsyn.
“Solzhenitsyn is saying if man forgets he has a relationship to the divine that transcends politics, then he’s going to actually mess up politics,” Lindley said, “And that was a reason for the conference’s existence.”
He said most of the lectures about the philosophy of Solzhenitsyn were great reminders to him about things he has studied before, and the lectures gave him a deeper appreciation and understanding for the life and works of Solzhenitsyn.
Sophomore Joshua Goeltz, a member of the Catholic Society, said some of the lectures about Solzhenitsyn were discussed in the context of World War II.
“One of the talks was about suffering and how suffering can lead you to God, and it’s usually for a good purpose,” Goeltz said. “Through suffering, you come more into accordance with what’s good and just, and you better understand your relationship with the world so you can be in accordance with God.”
Goeltz said St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish friar whom Nazis killed in a concentration camp, was portrayed as an exemplary model for the spiritual rewards of suffering.
“Maximilian Kolbe sacrificed himself so a man with a wife and kids could live. He was an example of somebody taking on suffering for the greater good,” Goeltz said, “And seeing the way that related back to Solzhenitsyn’s philosophy and text peaked my interest in the philosophy of suffering.”
In addition to Solzhenitsyn, Lindley said another great lecture was given by Alasdair MacIntyre, a famous American philosopher from Notre Dame, according to Lindley.
“His lecture was like the ones about Solzhenitsyn,” Lindley said, “but it wasn’t radically new; it reminded me of some things and deepened my appreciation for those things.”
Senior Colleen Prince, also a member of the Catholic Society, said MacIntyre gave the most impactful lecture of the weekend. She said MacIntyre is revolutionary in engaging modern culture with Aristotelian philosophy.
“His lecture was absolutely incredible,” Prince said, “His focus, the big crescendo at the end of his presentation, was on how we need to create good, strong communities, even in places where it’s most difficult, like a city, a very internationally well-known city.”
Prince said the community of South Bend embraces the teachings of MacIntyre and allows like-minded people with the same fundamental values to engage in deep conversations with one another.
“The community is astoundingly unique; It’s everything Alasdair MacIntyre would want,” Prince said. “Don’t graduate without going to the conference; I don’t care what major you are.”
Lindley said the best thing about the conference is that it brings together many different people with the same values.
“I made new friends who I really value, and I saw a lot of old friends, including a good number of alumni who came back from their various places around the country to come to this,” Lindley said. “In all my spare time, I was having lunch or dinner with friends, students, alumni, and that kind of fraternity is in some ways, the best part of the conference.”
Prince said she has attended the conference multiple years and compared the weekend to a family reunion.
“Everyone’s coming there; most people are Catholic, if not High Church, so I think that since we all have very fundamental similarities that sprouts much more specific conversations, which actually challenges your core beliefs,” she said.
Most people in attendance came from conservative Catholic colleges in America, according to Lindley. He said there were representatives from Europe, primarily Spain and Italy, and also from South America.
Despite an international presence, Lindley said he was struck by the desire from young Catholics for radical changes in the United States government.
“The really surprising thing was this integralist position, which is pretty unusual,” Lindley said, “Yet it’s fairly popular among certain kinds of people, especially among a certain crowd of young Catholics on Twitter, on so-called ‘Catholic Twitter.’”
Lindley said integralism is a new political teaching in certain Catholic circles that advocates for something similar to the collapse of church and state. He said it’s essentially the subordination of the politics to religion.
According to Lindley, integralism became the subject of discussion in the final panel discussion between four well-known scholars.
“It was an eye opener but also helpful to see what people were thinking about,” Lindley said.