With a mix of fanfare and gravitas, Catholic University formally launched the Center for the Study of Statesmanship (CSS) Sept. 13 at the National Press Club in downtown Washington, D.C.

Invited speakers and the center’s directors discussed the modern political and diplomatic climate and why the need for such an endeavor — one that places a premium on restraint and the decentralization of power in foreign affairs, as well as the questioning of assumptions that lead to conflict — is so very great today.

University President John Garvey, in his welcoming remarks, called the center “intellectually exciting and morally necessary,” both in the global context and as part of the University’s efforts to “form our students to become the next generation of virtuous leaders.”

A crowd of about 75 people watched a brief video about the CSS and listened as Doug Bandow, columnist for Forbes.com and a foreign policy scholar at the Cato Institute; Most Rev. Timothy Broglio, archbishop of the Military Services, USA, and a former Vatican diplomat; and Claes Ryn, professor of politics and CSS executive director, fielded questions from the center’s managing director and research fellow, William Smith.

Topics ranged from the treatment of Christians in the Middle East to the Trump administration’s game of nuclear brinksmanship with North Korea to the seemingly endless conflicts facing the United States.

Both Bandow and Archbishop Broglio decried the punishing toll of being a nation continually at war — for the last 16 years. “The cost is extraordinary,” said Bandow, “in lives, in money.” Archbishop Broglio offered a unique insight into the minds of those who serve in the military, whom he called “the community that’s most interested in peace, because they pay the price when war is the reality.”

Ryn eloquently traced the tradition of American statesmanship, going back to the Founding Fathers and the founding document, the U.S. Constitution, which he said “put a very heavy emphasis on the need to restrain human beings, because you can’t trust them with too much power.”

But that restraint has seemingly been lost, he lamented, with the rise of American exceptionalism, which posits that America is so virtuous by nature it has no need of self-discipline in its quest to remake the world, instead awarding itself vast new powers along the way. Only through the intervention of parents, church, and community can more admirable human traits, such as courage, courtesy, virtue, and modesty, be cultivated, he said.

“This is where Catholic tradition comes into play,” Ryn said, bringing the conversation back full circle to the center and why it’s so appropriately housed at Catholic University. “When the going gets rough, when the passion gets high, what’s going to avert war? In the end, the only people who can step back from the passions of the moment are the people with this kind of character who can recognize that human beings are on the other side.”

Archbishop Broglio, who has served the Vatican as a diplomat in Ivory Coast, Paraguay, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico, and is also a member of the center’s council of advisors, agreed. “One of the most important things is the insertion of Catholic social teaching and Catholic philosophy into the realm of statesmanship and foreign affairs,” he said. “I think it’s very exciting.”

With a mission to employ research, teaching, and public discussion to “defuse conflict and foster respectful foreign and domestic relations,” the timing could hardly be better. Once the center is fully staffed with professors and visiting fellows, Smith envisions it becoming an important voice in the broader conversation, “a think tank within a university,” he said.

Specific areas of study will include diplomacy, military affairs, intelligence, and constitutionalism, among others. The center will offer faculty research grants and graduate study opportunities, and make its presence felt through conferences, seminars, speeches, and publications. Its 12-member council of advisors includes historians, current and former members of the U.S. Congress, and news media figures.

Calling the CSS “kissing cousins to some of our Libertarian colleagues” in terms of advocating American constitutionalism and the exercise of limited power, Smith was quick to note that the center would come at its positions “though a different philosophical perspective,” reaching its conclusions through a Christian and Catholic lens.

The center falls under Catholic University’s Institute for Human Ecology, which itself was created in response to Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home.

For more information on the Center for the Study of Statesmanship, visit css.cua.edu.

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