Over the past week or so, some of the most respected intellectual historians working today gave us wonderful remembrances of Henry May and Eugene Genovese. Through these brief portraits we get a sense of the significance of May and Genovese to their profession, their fields, and to the craft of writing. We also heard about the way friendship played a role in making these academic stars truly great people. May and Genovese were more, far more, than merely their published works.
Recently, I spent a day looking through the papers of Richard John Neuhaus, a Catholic priest, editor and founder of the journal First Things, and a important force in the Culture Wars of the 1990s. My concern was for an earlier period, before the
founding of First Things, before the Culture Wars redefined Neuhaus and the people around him. One of those people was Stanley Hauerwas, a theologian who initially attracted attention as a young professor at the University of Notre Dame and a long-time friend of Neuhaus. In the last two decades of Neuhaus’s life, he and Hauerwas battled over two different wars in the Persian Gulf as well as over an issue that first brought them together in the mid-1970s, the role of religion in ordering American society.
I sifted through the as-of-yet unorganized collection of Neuhaus’s personal papers (on this note, I must thank Randy Boyagoda for giving this collection some order), looking through the years in between Neuhaus’s transition from an actor in CALCAV to a religious writer gravely concerned about what he identified as a crisis of authority in the debate over the American promise. In short, I looked at the period from the Hartford Appeal (published in 1976) and the founding of First Things in 1990. During that period, folders of correspondence that appeared thickest and most numerous included those people we would suspect: George Weigel, Michael Novak, Peter Berger, and William F. Buckley–people who helped Neuhaus shape a new conservative position on American culture. But Hauerwas was also there in dozens and dozens of letters, papers, conference presentations, and, of course, published work.
What struck me time and again about the exchanges, both published and unpublished, between Neuhaus and Hauerwas was the genuine affection they had for each other. They were good, loving, caring friends. I know this might not sound earthshaking to many of those who work on the relationships between intellectuals of earlier periods. And clearly those portraits of May and Genovese I mentioned earlier were suffused with affection. Clearly, it seems to me, the strong friendship between Neuhaus and Hauerwas made them better intellectuals. Their grave disagreements in later years, primarily over war and the partisanship that infected their intellectual stands, I think has largely overshadowed the way their love for one another helped to form one another into the intellectuals they became to the rest of us.
Reading through such correspondence made me wonder what examples we have of such intellectual friendships today. Although I am not an intellectual, my genuine affection for my colleagues at S-USIH–something that might come through occasionally in the posts I write–has helped us run the society and the conferences. I have no doubt that my time with this group has made me a better historian. I also like to think that such relationships have made me a happier and better person.*
* While working on Neuhaus I have also had good fortune to get to know Rusty Reno, Neuhaus’s successor as editor, and David Mills, the executive editor. And in a way that Neuhaus would undoubtedly have found right, Rusty invited me to dinner at he and his wife’s home, introducing me to David and generally offering friendship that is as crucial to understanding my subject as looking through boxes of correspondence.