US ‘capitals’ excursion for Ramsay Postgraduate Scholars

Feb 14, 2023 | Announcements, News & Media, PG News

North America-based Ramsay Postgraduate Scholars meet in Washington, D.C., and the original US capital, Annapolis, Maryland, for a weekend of learning and fellowship.

Tuesday 14 February 2023: In addition to other world-leading overseas universities, Ramsay Postgraduate Scholars attend many esteemed colleges across North America, including Georgetown, Harvard, Columbia, the University of British Columbia, University of Toronto, MIT, and the famed Great Books school, St John’s College, Annapolis.

Over the 2023 Australia Day weekend, our North America-based scholars met in Washington, D.C. and Annapolis, for three days of seminars on western civilisation-related topics. Their weekend gathering also included visits to some of America’s most famous historic monuments, both in Annapolis and D.C.

Annapolis, the first capital of the US, is home to St John’s College, where several of our scholars are being supported to study a Master of Arts in the Liberal Arts. It is also home to the prestigious US Naval Academy.

2021 St John’s College, Annapolis, Ramsay Postgraduate Scholar Benjamin Crocker wrote this reflection on the weekend:  

Over the Australia Day weekend, North America-based Ramsay Postgraduate Scholars gathered in Washington DC and Annapolis, Maryland, for three days of seminars as part of an Australian-American Leadership Forum. The event focussed this year on the intellectual history of the American founding and Australia’s place in the world and was framed by two pieces of extraordinary writing – Alexis De Tocqueville’s ‘Democracy in America’, and 20th Century Australian historian Keith Hancock’s ‘Australia’. The event gave scholars an in-depth look at the trials of the Democratic Age, from the American Revolutionary War through to the present day.

On Friday, Scholars commenced with a tour of the US Capitol building, visiting the Capitol rotunda, the crypts, and the historic Supreme Court Chamber from which most landmark opinions of the founding era were delivered. This was followed by a visit to the Australian Embassy in Washington DC, where Scholars undertook seminars on shared US-Australian values, challenges, and geopolitical interests with Australia’s Deputy Head of Mission in the United States, Paul Myler. Ambassador Myler was followed by one of America’s finest legal minds, Dr Roger Pilon, founder of the ‘Cato Supreme Court Review’, who delivered an address countenancing the philosophical foundations of Western nationhood, and the synthesis of Natural Law and Natural Right principles within the Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution. Of particular value in Dr Pilon’s talk was his ability to inform the discussion on what strands of Ancient, Middle Ages, and Enlightenment Philosophy made their way into modern systems of Government via the American founders.

Dr Pilon and his wife, distinguished national security author, Dr Juliana Pilon, then joined scholars for dinner, where a long and lively discussion over the state of Higher Education in the Western World took place. Scholars were also joined by Dr Murray Bessette, Vice President of Education at Common Sense Society, LT Ben Pershall (United States Navy), 2nd LT Ansley Green (United States Marine Corps), and MIDN Isaiah Camacho (United States Naval Academy), who were able to offer a unique insight into the intersection of military and academic training in the United States.

On Saturday, scholars relaxed with a scooter tour of historic Washington, visiting the city’s major monuments – the White House, National Mall, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and the reflection pool, before traveling to Arlington National Cemetery and witnessing the changing of the guard by the U.S. 3rd Infantry regiment, at the tomb of the unknown soldier.

The party then travelled to Annapolis, Maryland, where they were given a tour of the United States Naval Academy. Navy and Marine Corps officer graduates have been collaborating closely reading great texts with Ramsay Scholars based in Annapolis over the past two years, and on this occasion Ramsay Scholars from outside Annapolis were delighted to be welcomed into the Navy’s ‘home’ at the Academy. A particular highlight was a visit to Bancroft Hall, where 5000 young officers live, work and eat every day, under a single roof. Classmates lost in action – some as recently as the past few years – are commemorated around the walls of this magnificent building.

Across the street from the Naval Academy, St John’s College, America’s 3rd oldest university, is home to 6 Ramsay Scholars, who study the college’s rigorous ‘Great Books’ curriculum. On Saturday evening, these scholars invited their colleagues to their home downtown for a poetry seminar on ‘“Hope” is the thing with feathers’, by Emily Dickinson, and ‘An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow’, by the late, great, Australian poet, Les Murray. Scholars were very generously joined by the director of St John’s College’s Graduate Institute, and current political philosophy tutor, Dr Emily Langston, for this session. Dr Langston is a foremost expert on discussion-based liberal education and gave the Ramsay Scholars a thrilling historical exposition of this topic, explaining the rise of University departmentalisation in Germany in the late 19th Century, explicating the principles of discussion-based Great Books learning, and illustrating the unique workings of what St John’s deems the ‘radically democratic classroom’.

On Sunday, Scholars gathered at Harry Brownes restaurant, at State Circle in Annapolis. This location is significant to the discussion, as it was at the adjacent Maryland Statehouse where George Washington voluntarily resigned his command in 1783, a gesture which directly enabled the rise of the new world’s Democratic Age. Incidentally, at the Capitol in Washington two days prior, the scholars had had their group photo taken underneath John Trumbull’s famous depiction of this very scene.

At this seminar, scholars were joined by Senior Fellows from Common Sense Society, a Washington DC based organization which works to promote the principles of Western Civilisation, organised into three key areas of Liberty, Prosperity, and Beauty. Dr David Rose spoke to the scholars about Adam Smith’s economic theory, and the relationship between a free society and modern market economics. Dr Joshua Mitchell then spoke on Alexis De Tocqueville, and on his own recognition of Tocqueville’s prophetic capacity to foresee the problems of identity politics and modern political bipolarity. Dr Mitchell left the scholars with a challenge – to seek out face to face contact with others, to devote themselves to building vibrant local communities, and to be competent citizen-scholars dedicated to solving problems with (not simply for) others.

The Ramsay Scholars in North America thank the Ramsay Centre, the Common Sense Society, the Australian Embassy in Washington DC, The United States Naval Academy, The Stockdale Centre for Ethical Leadership at the US Navy, and St John’s College, Annapolis, for their generous support of this event.

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