Robert P. George receives Barry Prize for Distinguished Intellectual Achievement

Robert P. George, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, professor of politics, and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, has received an inaugural 2023 Barry Prize for Distinguished Intellectual Achievement from the newly established American Academy of Sciences and Letters (AASL). He is among 10 recipients of the prize awarded at a Nov. 8 ceremony at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Robert P. George

“With intelligence, civility and courage, Robert George has advanced our understanding of the intellectual and moral foundations of our Nation’s republican civic order,” the academy said in its citation. “Bridging the disciplines of law and philosophy, he has illuminated not only the principles and institutions of American constitutionalism, but also the natural basis of justice, human rights and the common good.”

This particular award was especially meaningful to me because I was able to receive it alongside scholars across a range of arts and sciences disciplines, who are so profoundly admirable,” said George, “including Orlando Patterson, the great sociologist and African American studies scholar at Harvard; Josiah Ober, a superb classics scholar and political theory professor at Stanford; and others of extraordinary achievement, including those in math and science.”

George, a specialist in moral and political philosophy, constitutional law, bioethics and the theory of conscience, noted it was a special honor to receive an award beside Sir Salman Rushdie, who received the AASL’s Robert J. Zimmer Medal for Intellectual Freedom named for the late University Chicago President. George called Rushdie “a hero of intellectual freedom.”

The AASL is a new learned society “founded to honor distinguished scholarly achievement across the disciplines of the university,” AASL President Donald Landry said at the ceremony, with “a special accent on lifting up for the highest recognition eminent scholars whose exceptional achievements are the fruit of independence of mind and intellectual courage.”

George, who is teaching the undergraduate course “Constitutional Interpretation” this semester and “Civil Liberties” in the spring, as well as the graduate seminar “Philosophy of Law,” said he tries to encourage those qualities  in his students.

“What I try to preach, and I hope model, for them, is to do work of the best quality, but don't be afraid to be adventuresome,” he said. “Don't just tell me what somebody else has said. Take the risk of venturing out with some original ideas. Experiment, explore, challenge the dominant perspectives in the field. Try to get a new angle on things, not because new is necessarily better, but it's how we advance the cause of knowledge.”

George has served as chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the President’s Council on Bioethics. He was a Judicial Fellow at the Supreme Court, where he received the Justice Tom C. Clark Award. He is a recipient of the U.S. Presidential Citizens Medal, the Canterbury Medal of the Becket Fund, and Princeton’s President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching, among many other honors and awards.

Winners of the Barry Prize receive a $50,000 cash award and become members of the academy.