Cheryl Miller on Hertog and the Humanities

great books civic education liberal arts deep literacy hertog foundation

December 1, 2023

Cheryl Miller is the executive director of the Hertog Foundation, an educational philanthropy organization in Washington, DC. Today, we talk about the mission of the foundation and the importance of the humanities in policy making and being a human more generally. We talk about the state of the youth, optimism, and Edith Wharton!

Don't miss Nancy Vander Veer's Great Antidote Extra on this episode.



Want to explore more?
Leon Kass on Human Flourishing, Living Well, and Aristotle, an EconTalk podcast.
Jon Murphy, Adam Smith Also Teaches Good Teaching, at Speaking of Smith.
Russ Roberts on Education, a Curious Task podcast.
Art Carden, How to Read a Book Inspectionally, at Speaking of Smith.
Why Read the Ancients Today? A Liberty Matters Forum at the Online Library of Liberty.


Read the transcript.


Juliette Sellgren
Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition. Hi, I'm Juliette Sellgren, and this is my podcast, the Great Antidote named for Adam Smith, brought to you by Liberty Fund. To learn more, visit www Adam Smith works.org.

Welcome back. This podcast obviously has been a method and a reason for my professional intellectual development, but today on November 13th, 2023, I'm happy to mention another institution that has been extremely important to my personal growth and is very close to my heart, the Hertog Foundation. I've participated in many Hertog programs and I'm so excited to be talking about the foundation's with the foundation's executive director today, Cheryl Miller. She was previously the Deputy Director of Research, the Office of Presidential Speech writing and a research assistant to David Brooks. Hertog is currently accepting applications for their programs, so go check it out. I could not recommend anything more. Welcome to the podcast.

Cheryl Miller 
Thank you so much, Juliet.

Juliette Sellgren (1.16)
So my first question for you, I'm excited to hear your answer to this because you deal with so many people my age and so many people in dc. What is the most important thing that people my age or in my generation should know that we don't? Well,
Cheryl Miller (1.30)

I don't know that it's something that your generation doesn't know. I think they actually do know it. It's really hard to do it on your own, and that's to read big books, to have what neuroscientists called Deep Literacy. I don't know if you saw Juliette. There was this big article in the New Yorker recently called The End of the English Major, and this particularly plucked at my heartstrings because I of course was an English major as an undergraduate. It was by Nathan Heller, and it looked at the decline of the humanities at American universities. And I mean this was true across institutions. It was at big state schools, it was at private selective schools like the Ivys. It was even at liberal arts colleges, and that's like their bread and butter. And he just finds the number of students who are majoring in the humanities has fallen off a cliff.

And he had all these kind of disturbing anecdotes, this Shakespeare scholar who said how hard it is to read a book now in part because the pool of screens your iPhone looking at that has kind of changed the way that he reads, such that he finds it hard or to be more attentive. There was a Harvard professor talking about how hard it is for students just to understand a Nathaniel Hawthorne novel, just on the sentence level, what is this guy actually saying? So that's something that really worries me, especially because I think it's actually more important than we might think for policymakers. A number of people have written about the importance of the humanities for policymakers. Henry Kissinger has talked about the importance of deep literacy. The way that it requires you to form concepts, to train your mind, to understand context and write a book is just, it's huge. You can't hold it in your mind all at once, and so you have to kind of struggle to internalize it. And a lot of students aren't getting that really important practice in college.

Juliette Sellgren (3.42)
So I mean, this is kind of right on topic and we're going to get there shortly, but can you not make the case for us, but what is the importance of deep literacy? How have you seen this importance play out and become realized in your own life?

Cheryl Miller (4.00)
Sure. I mean, I think for policymakers, one thing that it does is train your imagination. It's very easy, especially a lot of our policymakers as the students say, we grow up in a bubble. We are lucky to be here in the United States. Most of the students who come her talk's way are American, although we do have students from overseas, but generally from liberal democracies, don't have a lot of experience with other parts of the world where people might see things very differently or be in scenarios or situations that policymakers might find themselves dealing with impossible situations of, for example, what's happening in Israel and Gaza right now. And so one way that we can get that imagination, we can get that experience that's maybe missing in our life is through the humanities. I mean, particularly history. I think one thing that's interesting that students find when they talk to actual policymakers at the Hertog Foundation is that these guys don't talk like your IR classroom.

They don't look and say, what is the realist perspective on this? Or what is the constructivist perspective? They instead argue through historical analogy. There's a great book on this by Richard Neustadt called Thinking Through Time, looking at different ways that past policy makers have used history to understand their current situation and then think about possible policy solutions. But I also think that literature can help you do this. The problem with history is there are so many strands, so many contingencies, so many drivers, it's very hard to look and say, okay, what actually brought this event about what was the ultimate cause? Literature is kind of the halfway house between philosophy and history and you can see I guess more clearly how ideas might work themselves out.

Juliette Sellgren (5.59)
I like that. The halfway house between philosophy and history. That's perfect. So do you have any tips for us, for me, how to better achieve deep literacy? I read a good amount, but I feel like I could always improve and I feel like I'm always doing multiple things at once, and so I'm sure I'm not the only one. So are there things you do or things that you try to do or things you've read about that can help us to achieve this state?

Cheryl Miller (6.31)
Absolutely. I mean, I think reading on your own, it's of course very important, but I think most students recognize they get a lot more out of a book when they read it with someone else, when they read it in a group or in a classroom setting. You're getting other people's perspectives on it. A lot of these books are really hard and challenging, and so it helps to have somebody who has put in the requisite time and it has the experience to help you bring to life things that you might not be able to see for yourself. So I guess for the current college undergraduates, a lot of students are really concerned and I think rightfully so about career and jobs later on. And so they want to take jobs or they want to take classes that seem to plug into future jobs. So that means, and I think that's one of the reasons that we're seeing this decline in the humanities, which is philosophy is Plato's Republic or the Phenomenology of Spirit, is that going to get me a job?

It probably doesn't seem like it plugs into a career as easily as other courses do with modeling and statistics and so on. But the thing is, is that it's really hard to get through the phenomenology of the spirit by yourself. So I encourage students to take classes where those big books show up on the syllabus because you really do need an instructor for that to work through and classmates to work through with it. You're probably not going to get through that on your own classes that are on more contemporary books. There are a lot of great contemporary books about strategy or about current day politics, but you could understand those on your own and you could read them on your own. But especially once you have that foundation of the big books, the big classics, the great books, however you want to think about them, that form the foundation of our political system.

Juliette Sellgren (8.22)
Yeah, I opened with a plug for the Hertog Foundation, go check it out. That has been my number one source, quite frankly, of reading with peers and with professors and reading the big important things. I also think thinking about it in the context of what you're losing, maybe I'm just very econ, but I could just take a stat class or an econ class or a math class and that might be more applicable a coding class. And I know adults hate it when I refer to Rand, but there's one thing that she talks about, which I think is so right, and it would take a lot for me to be convinced that this is wrong, that you can't have science without philosophy and you can't have philosophy without science because it's purpose and application and you can't have one without the other. It's just not possible. So I don't know. I always think about that when I think about what I'm reading and why I'm reading and why I don't just do straight econ all the time. People are like, why do you do Russian lit in French? And I'm like, well, because otherwise I would just speak straight math and who wants to talk to someone who can only speak in terms of math?

Cheryl Miller (9.36)
Yes, again, I was an English major, so math is scary to me, but I mean I think it's really important, which is just so often we come at policy problems as though we are the first people to have encountered that policy problem. And I think it's helpful to look back and see people have encountered this problem before and here are some ways that they've done so, some successful, some not so successful. That can be really helpful

Juliette Sellgren 
Knowing what about humans recurs and what about it is maybe new or individual. It's always a good lesson to learn. So what are you reading right now?

Cheryl Miller (10.19)
Well, right now I'm mostly reading applications, so applications are open here at Hertog that you're seeking and you might be interested in after this conversation. So that's my infomercial part of the program I guess. But I'm also preparing for a class that I'll be teaching this winter on the House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. So I am having the joy, the pleasure of rereading that book again.

Juliette Sellgren 
Oh, that sounds awesome. Okay, so I guess we've kind of danced around this question, but I feel like we should make it very explicit. What is the mission of the Hertog Foundation and what specifically does it do?

Cheryl Miller (11.07)
Sure. So the Hertog Foundation is an educational philanthropy. I'm based here in Washington dc, but our boss and founder, Roger Hertog is up in New York and we sponsor fellowships in online courses for undergraduates, graduate students and young professionals. And we've been doing this since 2010. We have nearly 1700 alumni, one of which includes you, Juliette, and it's a variety of different kinds. Basically, there is a program that will be a fit for you. So if you are a college student and you want to spend your summer in Washington DC you don't want to just spend it interning or getting work experience. Maybe you've done that for another summer, you'd like an educational opportunity. Then Juliette did the political studies program. Maybe that'll be a program for you. So it runs for about six weeks over the summer. And really all of our programs are about bringing together theory and practice. So trying to understand how some of these big books, Aristotle, Plato, Hayek, Augustine, et cetera, Shakespeare, how do those people, how can we translate their insights and help us better understand contemporary policy questions that we have today?

Juliette Sellgren (12.27)
And so now I'm going to ask you a little bit of a trickier question, but sometimes these programs don't tie the two together so explicitly. So there's the humanities, which is obviously humanities oriented. You read books with instructors, professors, and you walk through them with peers. You have a seminar about it and then you have constitutional studies say, well, yeah, we do read Hamilton and James Madison and we read about the people who are thinking at the time of the Constitution, but it's less explicitly tied to the humanities and the Great books. So how are the two connected even when they're not so explicitly together?

Cheryl Miller (13.07)
Sure. So I mean, I think part of it is this kind of naughty relationship between liberal education and civic education, which is a big part of what we do is civic education, which is to help students often who don't have much grounding in American politics and American principles, particularly our founding principles, constitutional history and law. So Juliet, you also participated in this constitutional law, constitutional studies program that we ran recently with Adam White and we're doing again this summer, but that's missing for a lot of students. They show up at her talk foundation and this is the first time that they've read the Federalist Papers. How does that happen? I don't know, but we are their first introduction to it. So those things seem to translate very clearly to, I want to work on the Hill. But as you mentioned, some of the other things that we do don't seem to have that civic dimension or not as obvious as civic dimension, but I see them as part of the liberal arts, liberal education, which is to train people to be free.

And how do you do that? And part of it again, is that deep literacy to cultivate certain mental habits, attention, empathy, reading something, getting yourself out of your own head and into somebody else's experience and context. And that's really important for a policymaker or somebody who wants to be involved in some way in political life. And it's not necessarily all that explicit. What exactly am I transferring skills? And people like to mock this, which is like, oh, the humanities studying the humanities is not going to make you a better person. There are a lot of people, English professors and the like, not such great people. And that's certainly true. No one-to-one correspondent. It's not like a formula. But at the same time, if you don't learn those habits there, where else are you going to learn them in our Society?

Juliette Sellgren (15.10)
Society. Okay. So I know that there's a lot of work on this, there's a lot of things you can read to kind of communicate this message, and obviously you put it so concisely and so eloquently. Is there a single author in the enlightenment tradition or in this civic duty liberal education train of intellectual thought that has written on this subject in a way that you think is crucial for not just the youth today, people like me, but just for Americans generally or anyone interested in freedom or thought or love or becoming a better person?

Cheryl Miller 
That's a tough one, mark, because there are so many. I mean, an essay that I give all our students before they show up at her talk foundation so that they can get some sense of what exactly it is they've signed themselves up for is an essay by Leon Kass, who's a speaker for the Hertog Foundation, a professor emeritus from the University of Chicago, which is where I started out in graduate school, although I did not have the luck to study under Dr. Kass, but a legendary teacher now in Israel at Shalem College. And he wrote an essay called The Aims of Liberal Education. And in that essay, he tries to knot the relationship between civic and liberal education, but I really like the way that he defines liberal education, which is liberal education is for thoughtfulness, but it's also the means by which we go about it. And so that's what he calls the spirit of inquiry.

And I think that's something that you would remember Juliette from Hertog programs, which is that everything that we do at the Hertog Foundation is a seminar, a conversation between students because that's the way that we believe students learn best informed by Dr. Kass, which is like we're not just filling up new vessels with old wine, but instead we're trying to get you to engage with the texts with the questions, which the problems that the author puts forward and coming up with your own ideas and opinions and views on that. Again, because that's the only way to create free citizens ultimately.

Juliette Sellgren (17.46)
And maybe this is just me plugging an incentive for doing something with the Hertog Foundation, even though the program itself and the seminars are so, they're so beneficial, they're so fulfilling. The alumni newsletter plugs these all the time. I read so many great articles I wouldn't have otherwise known about, wouldn't have otherwise been exposed to, because there's a real commitment to making sure and sharing the new ideas that are being brought forward by people who have participated with og. And I think it's just so wonderful and it feels right.

Cheryl Miller (18.26)
Yeah, absolutely. And we are not the only ones to do this. There are so many different organizations that offer these kinds of opportunities. So I keep, for the Hertog alumni, I do a weekly newsletter, which is a kind of compilation of all of the different fellowship opportunities, online course opportunities, events, job opportunities, recommendations of things to read, because I just realized, one, it's challenging to keep on top of all this stuff, but a lot of students just don't know what's out there and maybe their university doesn't do a great job of helping them connect up with these kinds of opportunities. And so my service to all Hertog alumni, but there are great programs. The American Enterprise Institute has a summer honors program and similar in spirit to ours, which is you can read public policy, which you would expect AEI for public policy research, but you can also read the symposium over the summer at a EI, which maybe Dialogue on Love by Plato, not the first thing that you think about with public policy. The Hudson Institute has educational programs. That's another think tank here in Washington dc, the public interest fellowship. And there are so many more. If anyone who's interested, who listens to this podcast and wants to learn more about these programs can totally contact me. My email is up on the website and I'm happy to talk about all of the different opportunities. So even if her doc's not right for you, there's probably something else. There's a way to connect up with these ideas in these texts,

Juliette Sellgren (20.08)
And I want to sincerely say thank you for the newsletter, but just everything, because UVA, as great as it is, and as much as we have here, resources, professors, ideas, all of that, even institutions, there is kind of something missing in terms of connectedness. I think the Hertog newsletter sincerely is the way that I stay connected to what's going on in dc, which is so awesome. I can just pinpoint exactly where I get my information from and how I know that. So-and-so wrote about this. So how did you find your way to Hertog Foundation?

Cheryl Miller (20.53)
Yeah, so I was in exile from the academy. I actually started at the University of Chicago in the social Thought program, which is a PhD program right after undergraduate. And I probably should have taken time off between undergrad and graduate school. I really wasn't ready. I kind of thought about graduate school as an extension of my undergraduate career, and it's really different. I went to a very small undergraduate liberal arts college, very community oriented mission-driven great books, comic core kind of school, and then ended up at Chicago, this big research university and graduate school, anywhere you go is a very independent, can be very lonely experience. And so I had kind of gone from this mission-driven place where I was like, we all kind of have the same ethos and love of liberal education and the great books and so on. And then at Chicago and found out actually that's not the majority of people in the academic profession.

They don't share these values. And also one thing that I found really disheartening was that a lot of my peers and faculty around me kind of thought of teaching as this unfortunate burden that I have to undertake in order to do the really important thing, which is my peer-reviewed research that appears in the obscure journal that five other specialists read. And I thought that was backwards. I was like, the important thing is teaching the students and being with them and going through the books and asking them questions and people were like, oh, don't say that. You'll never get a job. So I was really having some going back and forth about do I really want to continue with this PhD? And then of course, as probably everyone knows, the job market is a disaster. It's a huge mess and all the more so today. And so job prospects for a political theorist not looking so great.

So I ended up spending the summer in Washington dc. I had spent a previous summer interning in DC and in the way of Washington dc no real connections, but intern did some good work and was able to make some important connections who were then helped me find some other jobs. And so I ended up actually in the speech writing office in the White House working for President George W. Bush, not his father, the son, which was great because this was a way to explain to my parents, I'm not going back to do the PhD, but I am going to be a speech writer for the president. So that worked for them and it was great to see politics up close and gave me a different view. I also got to work in journalism. I worked for the New York Times colonist, David Brooks, and then worked in the Washington Bureau. I worked in think tanks at the American Enterprise Institute. So got a lot of different DC experiences, but then kind of came back full circle back to my academic roots here at Hertog.

Juliette Sellgren (24.00)
That's so wholesome. I like the academic roots, but I understand that the academy is flawed in many ways. I'm really lucky actually, that a lot of professors here do like to teach, but some of them less than you would think is necessary.

Cheryl Miller 
It's really a mixed bag.

Juliette Sellgren 
Yeah. So you talked a lot about the importance of teaching, and I know you do a lot of big picture things at her dog, but you also, as you mentioned, lead courses. So last winter, the age of Innocence, Edith Wharton, and then again House of Mirth, Edith Wharton. What is it like being on ground as an instructor with students nowadays? What have you seen change with students over the course of your time with her talk? Are we really different now than the youth before?

Cheryl Miller (25.00)
Yeah, I, I'm lucky. So the great thing about being at the Hertog Foundation is it's like my ideal university that existed in my head. And then I came crashing into reality and realized that was not the actual university, which is I get to work with really outstanding faculty who love teaching and care deeply about it and want to be in conversation with students, not just lecture them for two hours about their own ideas. I also get to work with really amazing students who this is what they want to do over the summer or during their winter break. It's not the average undergraduate who looks at the summer and is like, I'd like to spend those six weeks reading Plato and Aristotle in the Federalist Papers and dense policy papers. That's my idea of fun. So I always remind myself how privileged and lucky I am to get to work with this really unique student body and that my experience is probably not, other faculty don't share it. They have a lot of challenges that I just don't have to deal with by the nature of our work. One thing that I have found with students is that, so recently students have been coming to me and telling me I feel like an imposter. 

Juliette Sellgren 
And so maybe you've heard of this Juliet Imposter Syndrome once upon a time. I said that to you. I remember you said, what is it with you people?

Cheryl Miller (26.27)
Yes, exactly. What is it with you people, and I hear this from students more and more. Again, the kind of student that comes to the Hertog Foundation is typically a high achieving student, great grades, their professor usually sends them to us. So somebody that their faculty, their instructors have a lot of confidence in. So somebody who's read difficult texts and yet they all feel like, as they say, imposters. And so I guess this is something that I have to blame your student life departments for. So I've begun addressing this with fellows at the beginning, which is that there's no imposters in our courses. And I do think that there's a little bit of, so Aristotle, right, Juliette, you might remember this from political studies, right? Virtue for Aristotle is a mean between two extremes and it's hitting the mark, which is not going to excess or extreme in one direction or another.

And so one of his virtues is magnanimity, which is being great sold, being worthy of great things and being able to do them. And the students all think that the vice, the worst vice, I guess maybe because we're Democratic peoples is Tocqueville tells us the worst vice is vanity, which is pretending to be something that you're not thinking you're too good. And so maybe this is a way of, I don't want to claim that I'm grateful that I'm worthy of great things, so I'll pretend like I'm worthy of less in order to avoid the possibility of being vain. But actually Aristotle tells us that the other extreme, which is what he calls small sold, that's actually much more common and it's worse. And so that's what I try to tell students, which is like one, there are no imposters, it's the universal human condition. Everyone feels like an imposter sometimes, and you just kind of got to fake it until you make it. And also when you say you have the imposter syndrome, you're not off of the hook. The only way to get over it is to have courage, to have another virtue. And you should remember it's advice.

Juliette Sellgren (28.46)
That is such a good way to address it. I really do think that changing the narrative is one of the only ways to long-term fend off that idea that I think my generation feels more than, I don't know. I feel like it might be wrong to say more than generations past, but the world around me tells me that that's not wrong. But something about human nature tells me that it probably is wrong, especially if Aristotle was talking about it.

Cheryl Miller 
Everyone feels like an imposter sometimes. I mean, it's just the normal human condition.

Juliette Sellgren (29.31)
Is there a way to culturally, other than just reading Aristotle and kind of marinating in this idea that everyone feels like that and you can't just let that overcome everything else? Is there any other way to offend it off? Is this one of the problems that liberal democracy will always face and kind of a trend that you think will always occur that we're constantly going to have to be on the defensive about?

Cheryl Miller 
Yeah, I mean I think that universities for a lot of good reasons have realized a lot of students have anxieties. Maybe those are more prevalent right now because of post pandemic. People were in isolation for a while and they kind of lost practice of being courageous and just speaking up in a group and sharing your thoughts. So people are out of practice. And so maybe that's a little bit of why it's rearing its head more these days. But I think in terms of combating it, one again, it's helpful to read to especially to read novels, which is, there's a cliché, which is that the most secure, confident person actually turns out to be really insecure. When I was young back in the eighties, we had Molly Ringwald, John Hughes movies for this, which is like you would find out, you'd watch the Breakfast Club and you would find out that Molly Ringwald, who is the coolest person, it girl of her time, actually also feels insecure. And so that was, if Molly Ringwald feels that way, I must be normal. So I don't know what your generation has, what is your John Hughes movies? You have to tell me Juliet, but to seek those out, because again, it's a reminder, which is that everyone feels this way. And when you realize that it's a little bit like the Emperor's new clothes, right? Oh, we're all like that. And so it's actually not such a big thing for me to put out my untested untried, maybe not completely thought through ideas because that's what everyone's working with.

Juliette Sellgren (31.35)
This is actually maybe a good point. I couldn't tell you what that is for my generation. And I think once we find it, we're going, that's like the key. We're looking for the key. The lights are off, we're kind of scrambling. We can't open the door. We need the key. And the key is that thing that makes us realize that we're all actually quite normal and we have things in common. And I guess it's probably media or a book or a story or I don't know, I guess

Cheryl Miller 
The humanities,

Juliette Sellgren 
Yes, it's something I have to search for. And I guess that's kind of the beauty of it. It's not just given to you. Every generation has to discover their own. I like that. Alright, let's talk about Edith Wharton a little bit. Who was she? Why do you like her so much? What's so cool about her?

Cheryl Miller (32.30)
Yeah. So Edith Wharton, she was a great novelist of New York City, the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for literature for which she won it for the Age of Innocence back in 1920. She had a really interesting life. She was born during the Civil War. She spent her childhood, her early childhood in Europe, and then she returned with her parents back to New York City to lead this kind of standard society life. She gets married, she builds this really gorgeous house in the Berkshires in Massachusetts, which you can visit today called the Mount. But this was just not satisfying to her. And so she blows it all up. She got divorced. She writes a novel which is in itself like scandalous thing for a woman of her station, her class to do at the time the House of Mirth, which is the novel that I'll be teaching this winter.

And she moves to France and she spends the rest of her life in Paris or outside of Paris in one of her country homes writing novels. And she writes 40 books and 40 years. And so she's amazingly prolific and she stays in France all throughout World War I and gets involved in the war effort and especially in refugee work, working with women, children, orphans, people who are left behind while their men are at the war front and helping to raise money for them and getting them work and making sure that they have the basic necessities. Spends very little time in America after that, but still very much engaged with American life. So I love her novels. I taught the Age of Innocence last winter teaching the House of Mirth this winter find students. She's not a name that people immediately come up with in the way we're teaching Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. Jacob Hallan from UATX will be teaching that. We're also teaching Moby Dick, Herman Melville, Bob Bartlett at Boston College will be teaching that. Those are kind of the big great books that come to mind when people are thinking about great literary works. But I want to put in a word for Edith Warren, and I think she's fantastic.

Juliette Sellgren (34.47)
She sounds pretty fantastic. So I guess if you were to start reading Edith Wharton, what would you start with? Would you start with the Age of Innocence?

Cheryl Miller 
Yeah, so maybe some students would be familiar with her because they probably read Ethan Frome maybe in high school. I don't know, maybe Juliette, did you read that in high school or no?

Juliette Sellgren
I honestly have no idea who that is.

Cheryl Miller (35.13)
Okay. Ethan Frome is a novella that Edith Wharton wrote. It's a kind of example of American naturalism or realism. And so therefore it gets taught in high school English classes or did at least back in the days when I was a high school student. I don't know, maybe it doesn't appear on high school syllabi anymore. Maybe that's why some few students that I talked to have heard of Edith Wharton. And actually I think Ethan from, aside from the fact that it's short is not a good first Edith Wharton. It's very dark, especially for a high school student to be on mitigated despair. This is maybe not the best work to reach them. I actually really love the House of Mirth. I think it has one of the great literary heroines, Lily Bart in literature, and it is a book about Lily is society beauty, but her parents die when she's young and they don't leave her with very much money.

So she's not independent. And the big question is, is she going to marry and is she going to marry for money and she can't bring herself to do this. She keeps coming close and then she can't finalize the deal. Basically she does something that then calls the entire thing off. And so it's a novel that's really, it's interested in the particular situation of a woman in the 1890s with gender roles, the class issues, that kind of thing. But it's also a big question, which is where do we find a home in the world, Lily? The way she needs to find a home is by getting married, but she can't do that. And then it branches out to this just bigger question, which is like, do any of us have a home in the world? And where might that be?

Juliette Sellgren (37.12)
That sounds like an awesome story. Maybe I should read it. Yes. Alright. So I want to get your take on optimism. There's a lot of pessimism, cynicism flying around in the world today. Are there things to be optimistic about and some things to be pessimistic about, or are you an optimist overall, a pessimist overall? How are you feeling about the future of America? Of my generation of policy, all of it.

Cheryl Miller (37.44)
So I mean, I guess I'm optimistic and I'm always optimistic right now because right now I'm reading applications and interviewing students and I talk to a lot of students who they might not know very much about Edith Wharton. Maybe the first thing they've ever come across is the webpage that we created to advertise this class or Moby Dick or Crime and Punishment. But they have a sense of this is important and it's something that I should read to be an educated person. And so I want to do it. I want to make the commitment. And so I actually think it would be very useful for a lot of donors, a lot of people who are down about younger generation. To sit behind my desk and talk to some of the students that I talked to, it would be good. It would lift their spirits because I talked to an amazing number of just really talented, very energetic, very driven, but also curious and thoughtful people, young people. And so they are out there and people should not be so despairing.

The state of the university, I guess is more disheartening if you want to look for reasons to be depressed, you just have to look at some of the things that are going on there. But even then, I think that there are again, some points for optimism. There are a lot of new experiments happening in liberal education, places like Her Talk Foundation, new programs outside of the academy for students to encounter. Some of these works I'm thinking of like Zena Hitz has a program, she's a tutor at St. John's College, a kind of quirky counter-cultural place by itself. But she's running a program called the Catherine Project, which are just online courses on the great books. First come, first serve, you can sign up and read Plato's Republic with one of their tutors. You can learn ancient Greek with them. So there are a lot of opportunities like this outside the academy.

And then I think there's also a lot of really interesting experimentation happening within the academy, including Arizona State University has this somewhat now new program, the School for Civic and Economic Thought in Leadership, I think SCETL and it has borne a number of new programs. So at University of Florida, there's the Hamilton Center, which is being run by this guy, Willan Boden, who came up from University of Texas, really wonderful instructor and academic researcher. He is starting a program again devoted to some of these questions, these big books, these big ideas that we've been talking about. There's something happening at UNC, there's a lot of these new programs happening. And so I think people are looking and saying something has gone really badly wrong with the humanities, but what are some solutions? What are some things that we can do to fix them?

Juliette Sellgren (40.40)
And obviously you work to do this and a lot of these people you've mentioned are creating these institutions and are working to constantly improve and spread all of this. But what can students do? What can people like me do other than just participate? Is that it?

Cheryl Miller 
Yeah. So take the courses that are on the big books, which that makes a big difference to the deans when they look and to say, is this major worth continuing to offer you vote with your feet. So if you're all majoring in computer science, that's not great for literature. So I think really make an effort to, and I know it's hard because you have your major and they have all of these requirements that you have to fulfill and doesn't leave a lot of room for electives, but I think it's worth making the extra effort. And the other thing is to try and really spend some time looking at that syllabus and seeing if this is going to be something that's going to help you engage with these kinds of questions in texts. Again, I think one of the big failures of the university is that so much of the general education requirements are kind of vacuous. And so students are like, they kind of pretend to teach us. We pretend to learn. And those classes can feel they're not teaching you anything. They're kind of obligatory busy work that you have to fill. So looking as much as you can for classes that will help you meet those requirements, but also are really going to challenge you, are going to give you good things to read,

Juliette Sellgren 
And in the meantime apply for the Hertog Foundation programs. They will change your life, I promise. The people you meet, the books you read, it's all worth it. Thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast and for sharing so much about yourself and your interests and what you see the state of the world being. I have one last question for you.

Cheryl Miller 
Okay.

Juliette Sellgren (42.51)
What is one thing that you believed at one time in your life that you later changed your position on and why?

Cheryl Miller 
Yeah, so I mean, I think one thing that was big for me was actually coming to Washington DC I've been thinking about life politics. So in addition to being a literature major, I was also a politics major at the University of Dallas. And at the University of Dallas politics really was political theories. So it was like reading Aristotle and Plato, Augustine Aquinas, the Federalist Papers, et cetera, building castles in the air, kind of thinking about what ideal politics would look like. And you get to read a lot of that, right? The takes on social media, I guess that's our version of Aristotle and these kind of castles in the sky of political philosophy today. And then I got into the White House working in a very junior capacity, so I was not doing anything of any importance, but got to see people who are doing things of importance up close and personal.

And it was actually very sobering, which was to recognize one, it's it's really, really difficult, gave me more empathy for policymakers, especially in foreign policy. So often there aren't really any good options. You have option A, which is bad, option B, which maybe is a little worse or just bad in a different way, and so on down the line. And so it was helpful, which was when I'm building castles in the sky, thinking about this is what policymakers should do if they weren't corrupt and evil, I came to realize, well, maybe some of them are corrupt and maybe some of them are evil, not the people I worked with. They were great, but maybe some policymakers not so great. We can all think of our own examples, but actually they were mostly people who were just like me with some more experience, with some more knowledge who are facing really difficult problems.

And so, I mean, that's something that we really do try to push in our own programs at her talk foundation, which is right. You get a bunch of smart kids in the room, they can all find the 20 problems in no time in the first 10 minutes of class with a policy solution, here's everything that's going to go wrong, here are the unintended consequences, and so on down the line. But then push back and say, well, what would you do? And when students are confronted with that question, it's like, oh, it's not enough just to criticize. You also have to put something forward, positive and fully knowing that it's the kind of thing that you put out there that people are going to come up with in the first 10 minutes, 20 different objections to it, why it's not going to work, and you still have to defend it as the least bad option. So that to me was really helpful. Humanizing of people in Washington and sometimes a hard town to humanize, but just coming here, meeting people, realizing everyone, however much you might dislike them or their policies has an account of themselves and why they're doing what they're doing, and it's generally not just vicious and stupid.

Juliette Sellgren (46.07)
Once again, I'd like to thank my guests for their time and insight. I'd also like to thank you for listening to the Great Antidote Podcast. It means a lot. The great antidote is sound engineered by Rich Goyette. If you have any questions, any guests or topic recommendations, please feel free to reach out to me at great antidote@libertyfund.org. Thank you.
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