In October 2018, on our tenth anniversary, Public Discourse introduced a new framework: the five pillars. The purpose of this framework is two-fold. First, it provides helpful divisions—separating our content into categories that makes it easier to find the essays you’re looking for. Second, it creates equally helpful connections, allowing the reader to see the ways in which seemingly disparate articles and topics actually contribute to the same overarching goal.
The five pillars are drawn from an essay, “The Five Pillars of a Decent and Dynamic Society” (originally published in The Thriving Society: On The Social Conditions of Human Flourishing) written by Robert P. George, Herbert W. Vaughan Senior Fellow of the Witherspoon Institute. The content on Public Discourse is organized around the five pillars George identifies in that essay, as is our new editorial structure and team of contributing editors.
Below, you’ll find a description of each pillar: The Human Person, Sexuality & Family, Politics & Law, Education & Culture, and Business & Economics. To see the latest articles from each pillar, simply use the navigation bar at the top of every page.
Respect for the Human Person
The first pillar of a decent society is respect for the human person. To be just, a society must be built upon the recognition that all individual human beings have dignity simply because of the kind of beings they are: animals whose rational faculties allow them to know, love, reason, and communicate, and persons who flourish as members of a community that respects their fundamental rights.
People matter, even if they are not wanted. That includes the poor and the marginalized, the elderly, the disabled, and the unborn. The answer to the question “who counts?” is “everyone.”
At the heart of the human person lies the desire for the transcendent. Religious convictions shape our understanding of who we are, the point and destiny of our lives, and how we ought to treat those around us. They guide our pursuit of the truth and our adherence to it when we find it.
The freedom of religion and the freedom of conscience are therefore fundamental to the dignity of the human person. These freedoms are not the enshrinement of relativism or the assertion that all beliefs (or none) are true. Rather, they make the most sense as the means for human beings to freely devote their intellects to the truth and their wills to the love of God as they best understand Him.
Clearly, this conception of the human person draws from many academic disciplines. The articles in this pillar are most commonly—but not exclusively—based upon biology, the social sciences, philosophy, and theology.
Sexuality and Family
The second pillar of a decent society is the institution of the family, which is built upon the comprehensive sexual union of man and woman. No other institution can top the family’s ability to transmit what is pivotal—character formation, values, virtues, and enduring love—to each new generation. Where is dignity learned, self-restraint modeled, and caring demonstrated if not first from our mothers and fathers? Without healthy families, other institutions quickly begin to show signs of crippling stress. And yet the family has been targeted for “updating” in light of shifting norms in the West, norms that themselves are rooted in modern and postmodern ideas and wedded to technology. It pays, therefore, to watch, read, and listen with a healthy dose of skepticism.
The content featured in the Sexuality and Family pillar does this. It blends philosophical thought with actual observation. You’ll read law professors discussing the state of family policy and medical doctors examining the latest gender ideology. First-person testimonies from people struggling with same-sex attractions or gender dysphoria appear alongside the work of philosophers and theologians exploring the underlying currents to these social developments. Public Discourse’s content on marriage, family, and sexuality draws on what can be known scientifically, but it is not held hostage to the scientists who study these topics. It is here—in assessing the many measurement and analytic decisions that fallible (and occasionally politically motivated) scientists make—that readers of Public Discourse particularly benefit.
Politics and Law
The third pillar of a decent society is that of politics and law. As we learn from Aristotle, man is the political animal because he is the rational animal—the speaking animal who gives and receives reasons for his actions. This makes engagement in politics, the arena where such reasons are debated, natural for humankind. Politics and law, as Robert P. George observes, are “necessary because none of us is perfectly virtuous all the time,” and because some overarching authority must be responsible for the common good.
As the architect brings order and design to the whole business of building a house, acting more comprehensively than carpenters, plumbers, and electricians, so does the statesman—particularly the founding lawgiver—impart order and design to the polity, setting its fundamental shape, principles, and direction.
A just society is one in which a government does not bind all persons, families, institutions of civil society, and actors in the marketplace to itself as subservient features of an all-pervading authority. Instead, it honors and protects the inherent equal dignity of all persons, safeguards the family as the primary school of virtue, and seeks justice through the rule of law.
Within the pillar of Politics and Law, Public Discourse publishes a rich variety of essays—on our laws and institutions, our parties and elections, our domestic and foreign policies, and the fundamental principles of our political order—all animated by the sober recognition that nothing less is at stake than justice and the common good.
Education and Culture
In dynamic societies, such as our own, schools and universities play a dual role. On the one hand, they transmit the knowledge, wisdom, and mores of their society, thus acting as bearers of tradition. No society can maintain its coherence or existence without a place for tradition in education, and no progress would be possible if we had to begin afresh with each generation and could not stand upon the accomplishments of those preceding us.
On the other hand, a society could hardly be considered dynamic if education involved nothing more than repetition of previous insights and discoveries. The Western intellectual tradition, in particular, is one that challenges, examines, ponders, and critiques. It is built upon desire for the truth.
Yet education is not simply about ideas and arguments. Human beings receive most of their education through culture. That is, we are educated not through ideas alone but through music, art, architecture, tools, work, poetry, story, games, sports—through the cultivation of an entire form of life, including the institutions that teach those forms. The essays published within the Education and Culture pillar, then, include not only analyses of the state of educational institutions today, but also broader reflections on the cultural practices and experiences that shape our intellectual and moral characters.
Business and Economics
The fifth pillar, business and economics, is built upon concern for the common good and the ways in which the economic order contributes to—or detracts from—human flourishing.
Free market principles have unleashed a meteoric rise in standards of living around the world over the past two hundred years. Yet the “market” does not operate independently of the actors that comprise it. Rather, it responds—through the price system—to the actions of individuals, firms, and governments. The market functions best when virtuous individuals can freely compete and cooperate, abiding by the rule of law.
In recent decades, much has been written about the excesses created by the free market in the United States and other developed economies. Some critics suggest that material excesses contributed to a loss of virtue among many market participants. Others are concerned about the promotion of harmful moral, social, or political ideologies by “big business.” Still others argue that the free market leads to inequality. Proposed solutions require careful consideration to resolve these tensions. This is especially true when it comes to state-sponsored initiatives. Public Discourse wrestles with these questions, exploring how business and markets can both contribute to and undermine civil society.
Rejecting the false dichotomy between a completely free market and a centrally managed or state-controlled market, Public Discourse authors examine the ways in which the market can promote human flourishing and the ways in which the market itself is shaped by—and gives shape to—our understanding of the human person, the role of the family, the rule of law, and education and culture.