George’s long-time friend and colleague Keith Cleveland has been a Basic Program instructor since 1968, and is also a former chair of the Program. He shared the following reflections:
“I have been privileged to know George Anastaplo for 45 years through the Basic Program, as colleague, teacher, and mentor. As the existence of the annual Anastaplo Lecture indicates, George Anastaplo is the most significant member of the Basic Program staff.
George was a great practitioner of the long tradition of close and thoughtful reading associated with the University of Chicago. George asked excellent questions. Questioning was the basis of his extensive scholarship and the source of the many insights he has provided to us on a wide range of subjects. As most, if not all, of us can testify, he practiced the tactical genius of a skilled cross-examiner, making of it a powerful teaching tool in the manner of Socrates.
George was a great story teller, very much in the tradition of Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain. The stories arose from his life and experiences, from the works he studied, from the teachers he had. George carried forward the work of the great men with whom he has studied, notably Leo Strauss, David Grene, Malcolm Sharp, and Harry Kalven, applying their insights and methods to new problems, and drawing from their genius – illustrating their continuing vitality, reminding us of their work, keeping it before us as a continuing resource.”
Cynthia Rutz, also a former chair, has been a Basic Program instructor since 1991, added, “George was an exemplary citizen of the Basic Program. He taught us all through example that we should give lectures, attend every staff meeting and lecture, and step up and give staff briefings on our common texts. He also modeled being a continual student by teaching texts in the alumni courses that he himself wanted to learn – demonstrating and emphasizing that we should continually be students of the texts, not masters of them (which no one can be anyway).
“In my first year or two of teaching I had a disastrous class on the Bible. Several people in the class disrespected me because of my lack of detailed scholarly knowledge about the text. Someone suggested that I talk to George about it. So he graciously met me in the U of C library and when I explained the situation, he said that I was the subject of intellectual bullying. He suggested I pick a small piece of the text—such as the Beatitudes – and spend the entire class going over it in detail. Close attention to the text puts everyone on an equal footing and does not allow for pontificating. I have never forgotten this lesson. When I met the same group again years later I was much more poised and confident as a teacher and we had a wonderful experience together.
“In many ways George was the heart and soul of the Basic Program. He was our gadfly, questioning us, sometimes shaming us by his never missing a meeting or a lecture, but always holding us to the highest standards of the greatest thinkers of our tradition. As Socrates said to the men of Athens, I fear that without him we will ‘sleep for the remainder of (our) lives unless God in his care sends us another such gadfly.’”
From former student and colleague William Braithwaite, now teaching at St. John’s College in Annapolis, who assisted with the delivery of George’s final Works of the Mind lecture last month after George had written it but was no longer up to the task of delivering it in person:
“While practicing law in Chicago, I enrolled in the Basic Program, where I first met George Anastaplo, in September 1971. The book was Plato’s Meno. It begins with, in Meno’s words, ‘how does one get virtue?’ – by teaching or by practice, by nature or in some other way. Recently a freshman student and I were together translating Meno’s question from Plato’s Greek, and I realized as we talked that there was something true in each of the four possibilities. What made me see this was thinking about George Anastaplo’s life, as I saw it coming to its close.
“To his own teachers, he often acknowledged his debt, examining and extending what they had given. He emulated their example, never himself tiring of teaching about becoming and being good, which for him always came down to trying to see things as they really are. He practiced virtue, too, in ways big and small; his beneficiaries are legion. But he surely had something from nature, as well, this descendant of those Greeks who fought the invading Persians twenty-five centuries ago: the extraordinary productivity of his six-decades-long professional life shows truly prodigious vital forces, disciplined daily to the task at hand.
“During 40-plus years, George Anastaplo was, successively, my teacher, faculty colleague (at Loyola Law School), friend, and mentor. I can now see what’s true in Meno’s last-mentioned possibility, ‘some other way.’ This other way one might become good, besides the teaching and practice that grows natural gifts to their best maturity, is to see someone living it. Then you can come to believe in it because you’ve seen it done.”