On March 25, the SB Hall Multipurpose room was filled with about 200 attendees waiting to hear newly-hired Dr. Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation speak on “Catholic Social Teaching and the Challenges of Our Time.”
This is Anderson’s first address to the University of Dallas community since UD hired Anderson to be an adjunct politics professor as the first St. John Paul II Social Thought fellow in February.
Anderson is the William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation and the founder of Public Discourse, the Witherspoon Institute’s online journal. He received his Doctorate of Political Philosophy at Notre Dame.
Anderson is known for addressing controversial social issues and defending Catholic social teaching and natural law politics. He has appeared on major news outlets from a variety of viewpoints. His more recent works include his books “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment” (2018), which he delivered a talk at UD about last year, and “Truth Overruled: the Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom” (2015).
“[Anderson] brings a sophisticated natural law perspective on American public issues to UD’s classroom,” said UD politics professor Dr. Christopher Wolfe in an interview. “And that will be a tremendous addition to the university.”
Wolfe is also president of the American Public Philosophy Institute, which co-sponsored this event with UD.
While introducing Anderson, Provost Dr. Jonathan Sanford praised him for his calm response to the divisive nature of current politics and faithfulness to uphold the truth of Catholic social teaching.
“Today’s Church is confronted by challenges to the nature of man,” Anderson said in his talk. “I hope to simply be articulating perennial truths of the Catholic intellectual tradition that are particularly relevant to our moment in time.”
Quoting Karol Józef Wojtyła, who later became Pope St. John Paul II, Anderson identified the cause of the West’s contemporary “crisis of culture” as “a faulty understanding of the human person.”
Anderson again cited John Paul II, as well as Pope Benedict XVI, who called Catholics to be bold towards the world. He challenged his listeners to boldly face contemporary social problems which John Paul foresaw, including totalitarianism, communism, abortion and the sexual revolution.
Anderson tied his understanding of John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger, Edmund Burke, Lord Acton and others to contemporary politics today by claiming that what is troubling American unity in society is a lack of understanding of the nature of humanity.
“The American dream is dead Trump announced,” Anderson said, referring to a cultural division between elite communities and other Americans.
“For many Americans, Candidate Trump was the first to articulate their reality,” Anderson said. “America is divided, but not primarily along racial lines or religious lines, and nor primarily along partisan lines.”
Rather, Anderson said that “America is divided along community lines.”
“The problem is without social capital, and a rich civil society, Americans can’t navigate a pathway through these challenging times,” Anderson explained. “To these social, cultural, and spiritual problems, we are offered material solutions … They don’t do anything to revitalize the society. In many cases, they make it worse.”
On this issue, Anderson did not offer one specific solution but delivered a challenge.
“It’s not just a challenge for Catholic thought, but it’s also a challenge of Catholic living. How do we live the reality of our social nature?” Anderson said, encouraging people to live what they have been taught and to seek the truth of the human person.
Sophomore Alexandra Ralles was enthusiastic about Anderson’s arrival at UD.
“I thought it was really fantastic,” Ralles said about Anderson’s talk. “I’m really glad he emphasized John Paul’s idea that anthropology and the understanding of the human person [are] central to contemporary society. I think that is such a crucial idea that really needs more attention.”