Since seeing the movie Julie and Julia the other year, I do a double-take whenever I see an old photograph of Julia Child on a cookbook: Is that the actual chef, I wonder, or Meryl Streep, who played her so realistically? So I found myself doing a double-take when I saw the photograph today of my too-soon departed friend Peter Lawler, for his image looked so like the famous picture of Walker Percy, the novelist and essayist he most admired. Both were Southern and Catholic and, to borrow the title of one of Percy’s novels, both adopted the conceit of the “Last Gentleman,” an ideal whose lasting charm insures it will never quite be true.
It seems every year we have more proof that American universities are failing to engage in civic education, especially if we understand the concept as requiring meaningful reflection about the nature and purposes of government rather than just an awareness of the mechanisms of our government. There are exceptions, but for the most part, it seems unreasonable to expect much from the cafeteria-style general education curriculum required at most colleges. It is just as often remarked that even the civic education that some college students might encounter does not help, either—at least if you are a U.S. citizen who cares about fostering morally serious debate about the legitimate purposes of government in shaping our lives.