American Conservatism and Governing Fellowship
The American Conservatism and Governing Fellowship brings together cohorts of successful mid-career public-service professionals to study the foundational principles of American conservatism. The fellowship will help leaders deepen their thinking about conservatism in America and its application to the work of governing. Regardless of their location on the political spectrum (there is no political litmus test for participation), fellows will benefit from this exploration of principles and policy. When a mayor, governor, legislator, cabinet secretary, or president is looking for talented, ethical, experienced public-service professionals who are knowledgeable about American conservatism and can be entrusted with governing responsibility, they will look to alumni of this fellowship.
Though much attention has been paid in recent years to populism, nationalism, liberalism, and even the policies of other nations, the principles of American conservatism remain an indispensable guide for those engaging in the public’s business. These principles are suited to America’s history and character, they have contributed mightily to our nation’s success, and they can help us solve today’s most pressing challenges.
But those engaged in the difficult day-to-day work of public leadership—especially when they are inundated with toxic commentary about the latest political spat—can lose sight of these principles. That is, the burdens associated with actually governing and the distorted picture of America painted by social media can make it difficult to reflect on conservative principles and decide how they can best be applied to real-world problems.
This fellowship brings together cohorts of approximately 15 individuals from across America to read and discuss the ideas behind the seminal texts of American conservatism. Each cohort convenes in person twice over the course of a year for four days of text-based seminars and related events. Participants will explore, among other topics, why classical republicanism—and its focus on self-governing citizens, civic virtue, the common good, and a limited state—was essential to our founding; why American conservatives are dedicated to preserving the Constitution, including federalism, separation of powers, ordered liberty, and equal protection; why conservatives aim to strengthen individuals, families, communities, and civil society; why conservatives rely on voluntary associations and small-scale democracy instead of a presumptuous national government and an expansive administrative state; and why conservatives generally prefer practical wisdom and tradition to technocracy.
Unlike similar programs, this fellowship is designed, first and foremost, for those committed to a life of public service, primarily those who will spend some portion of their careers working for local, state, and/or the federal government. The seminars include sessions moderated by individuals with governing experience, and all sessions will aim to explore the application of conservative principles to the work of governing.
Applicants need not currently work for a government entity; the fellowship is open to those serving in a variety of public leadership and policy roles, including in the fields of advocacy, research, and philanthropy. But aspiring fellows should be committed to a career of public service, including inside-the-government work. Also, the fellowship is open to those focused on any level of government, but we will give particular attention to those interested in close-to-home service (e.g. at the state, local, and community levels).
Lastly, applicants need not identify as political conservatives. Those with other views are welcome; the fellowship prizes free and rigorous discussion of the texts. The only requirement is that applicants must want to learn more about American conservatism. This program is premised on the belief that the principles of American conservatism add enormously to American governing and help explain many characteristics of American society. An appreciation for conservatism’s principles can deepen public servants’ knowledge, strengthen American institutions, improve policymaking, and enable leaders to better understand the views of others engaged in the political process.
This type of professional development opportunity—focused on ideas, policy, and fellowship among public-minded professionals—is needed in our unusual political moment. Current American policy conversations have become simultaneously toxic and exhausted. Our political parties are polarized, serious debates are often conducted in soundbites on cable news, and the public square is increasingly uncivil. Tragically, too many public officials behave in unethical ways, undermining America’s system of virtuous self-government. At the same time, fresh, workable solutions to today’s most pressing problems are in short supply. In total, then, we have a reduced capacity to do the public’s work.
This is especially troubling because this era demands energetic, creative, principled, civil leaders. Substantial changes in the economy, demographics, and culture are causing new challenges, destabilizing old orthodoxies, and possibly leading to political realignments. Now is the time to consciously invest in the next wave of public-service leaders.
This fellowship’s emphasis on first principles of governing is designed to inform, challenge, inspire, and invigorate participants. The fellowship encourages participants to focus on ideas and policy rather than politics and partisanship so they can lead and contribute to efforts to solve concrete problems. In this way, the program aims to strengthen fellows’ understanding of conservatism as well as their commitment to careers in public service.
This fellowship is built on the view that decentralized authority, ordered liberty, self-government, tradition, civil society, natural rights, pluralism, capitalism, practical wisdom, and virtue contribute mightily to America’s success. But the fellowship doesn’t demand that participants agree that American conservatism holds the only answers to our problems; in fact, the curriculum asks fellows to grapple with the tension between various conservative principles, understand how conservative principles have been used to defend unjust practices, and appreciate different visions of conservatism today. Our readings will prompt challenging conversations about today’s most difficult issues. So, while the program is unapologetically built on the view that American conservatism adds enormous value to governing, discussions begin with curiosity and a spirit of inquiry.
This fellowship fills an important gap. There are programs on conservatism for college students and recent graduates. There are programs led by academics and commentators. There are professional development opportunities for people working in public service. There are gatherings for people generally interested in conservatism but not committed to careers in public service.
This fellowship, however, is specifically designed for those who are already building successful careers in public policy and public service and want to learn more about the animating principles of American conservatism, especially as they relate to the practice of governing. This is a sustained, intellectually rigorous program based on engagement with seminal texts and extended discussions. And unlike most other programs in this space, which are led by those with little to no experience in governing, this program is by and for those dedicated to governing.
The American Conservatism and Governing Fellowship brings together cohorts of approximately 15 individuals to engage in text-based conversations. Fellows will gather in person to participate in four-day learning sessions twice over the course of a year. The first session focuses primarily on seminal texts and the defining principles of American conservatism. The second session focuses more on the application of governing principles to policymaking. Sessions are primarily moderated by Andy Smarick (the program’s founder and director) and will include conservative thought leaders with experience in public policy.
Fellows represent a wide array of domestic policy fields, including education, workforce development, social services, criminal justice, and more. Some work for government bodies, others work for outside-of-government public service organizations. The fellowship is particularly interested in applicants committed to state and local service. Most policymaking—especially that which most directly affects citizens’ lives—occurs in state capitals and local governments; political debates are less polarized outside of the Beltway; those outside of Washington often lack access to policy-related professional development; and if conservatism believes in decentralization, pluralism, and local wisdom, we ought to purposely invest in those working at the state and local levels. During their fellowship year, participants continue to work in their current positions. Fellows commit to reading the extensive packets of texts prior to each of the two seminars and being “fully present” during the sessions (no screens during conversations, no stepping out for work calls, etc.). During the four-day sessions, there will be group dinners and activities as well, but there will also be scheduled downtime for fellows to recharge and catch up on personal and professional obligations. The program is free of charge to Fellows; the cost of their travel, hotel, and incidentals are covered by the Fellowship.