How do we confer the wisdom of the American Founding to future generations? According to philanthropist and investor Roger Hertog, this is the central question that should animate anyone who cares about preserving America.
Civic education is naturally close to Hertog’s heart. President of the Hertog Foundation and chairman of the Tikvah Fund, he has also served as chairman of the New-York Historical Society and the Manhattan Institute, provided funding for a branch of the New York Public Library in the Bronx, and sat on the boards of civic-minded institutions including the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Washington Institute for Near-East Policy. He is a recipient of the National Humanities Medal.
Hertog felt that his now-adult children didn’t get the kinds of college education they should have, and that insight eventually led him to found the Hertog Foundation.
“Education is about trying to understand what’s at the heart of an idea or question,” he says. “Can I really understand what Edmund Burke was talking about? Or the authors of ‘The Federalist’?”
The Hertog Foundation’s purpose, he says, is to give “young men and women a deeper understanding of American political thought.” In Hertog’s mind, “American history should be about having a fair-minded understanding of both the high points and flaws,” steering away from both hagiography and a warts-only approach.
Director Cheryl Miller says that the Foundation’s slate of educational programs offers a welcome corrective to hyper-specialization in the academy and ideology-infused college courses.
The Foundation’s fellowship programs for undergraduates and recent graduates combine theory and practice and are taught by distinguished faculty including Harvey Mansfield, Leon Kass, Daniel J. Mahoney, Allen Guelzo, Diana Schaub, and James Ceaser. Hertog says that the Foundation elevates teachers with a “dispassionate interest” in understanding authors as they understood themselves, “rather than how the teacher or other critics see it.”
Each year, students from approximately 200 colleges and universities apply for a spot in one of Hertog’s programs, which started as a single pilot course with just 20 students in 2010. All told, the fellowship programs now boast over 1,300 alumni, and they have gone on to work everywhere from the Marine Corps to the Wall Street Journal and Congress.
The Political Studies Program is a selective, summer-long residential fellowship on politics and public policy in which students in small groups explore topics of civic importance through Socratic-style discussion. Courses for 2021 include an exploration of how “The Federalist” can shed light on contemporary constitutional debates and how free speech should be understood in the context of our fractious political environment. Applications are due on March 15th.
“The Hertog Foundation offers bright and curious students the opportunity to explore the great texts – and the enduring questions – of the Western tradition and the American civic experience,” says Daniel J. Mahoney, who has taught multiple Hertog seminars.
The Foundation’s War Studies Program is a rigorous two-week seminar for advanced undergraduates that focuses on warfare and military doctrine and is run by the Institute for the Study of War. Students examine the “theory, practice, organization, and control of war and military forces” with national security and military leaders such as H. R. McMaster and Generals (Ret.) Martin Dempsey and David Petraeus.
For young professionals, the Security & Strategy Seminar features three sessions meeting simultaneously from September to May and focusing on America’s most formidable international adversaries: China, Russia, and Iran. Over the course of 15 evening sessions, experts guide discussions based on assigned readings that allow participants to gain a greater understanding of foreign affairs and the principles of statecraft.
In light of COVID-19, Hertog developed a new virtual program, Humanities at Hertog, that focused on a close study of important literary texts such as Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” and Saul Bellow’s “Ravelstein.” Another virtual resource: Hertog’s Online Library, which includes panel discussions, featured books and essays, and links to additional civic material, past Hertog courses, and syllabi.
“Abraham Lincoln always felt that the risks to the country would come from within – not from outside,” Hertog contends. “We would bring about our own fall in effect because we don’t understand who we are.”
The Hertog Foundation is working to ensure that America’s principles and practices stay alive for generations to come.
Mike Sabo is the editor of RealClear’s American Civics portal.