Professor Robert George | Can the Ruler Truly Be a Servant?

March 05, 2012

Robert P George


Democracy is a remarkable constitutional idea.

Political power, which can so easily be abused, is supposed to be exercised, checked, and limited by the very people over whom it is exercised. But what is the proper  scope, and what are the limits, of rule by the people and their elected  representatives? For the sake of the common good, what sorts of decisions should be left to non-governmental authority structures, beginning with the family? What sorts of limits on power should democratic regimes respect for the sake of these “mediating structures” of civil society and the rights and dignity of individuals? How can democratic government be strong enough to achieve its legitimate goals, but limited in ways that protect against tyranny?

With the New Zealand constitution currently under review, it is a good time to be asking such questions. How is power limited and who should have the final say on our laws—government, Parliament, judges or the people?

How do we provide for ourselves a government that can reflect and sustain who we are as a nation?

Internationally acclaimed legal and political philosopher Professor Robert George has spent many years addressing these questions. He will help us understand how constitutional government can serve the cause of freedom—and the common good— without becoming a mortal threat to freedom and the common good.



Robert P George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. He has written many notable books and influential scholarly articles in moral and political philosophy, philosophy of law, constitutional theory, and bioethics. A graduate of Swarthmore College and Harvard Law School, he holds a master’s degree

in theology from Harvard and a doctorate in philosophy of law from Oxford University, as well as honorary doctorates of law, letters, science, ethics, divinity, humane letters, civil law, and juridical science. He has been awarded the U.S. Presidential Citizens Medal, one of the highest honors that can be conferred by the United States on a civilian, and the Honorific Medal for the Defense of Human Rights of the Republic of Poland.

He is currently serving as a member of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, having previously served on both the President’s Council on Bioethics and the United States Commission on Civil Rights. He has also served on UNESCO’s World Council on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST), and he is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Watch his Lecture below:

Click here to read the 2012 Sir John Graham Lecture & Q+A monograph.

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the New Zealand Law Foundation and Clavell Capital in sponsoring this event.

Sir John Graham

Since 2008, the annual Sir John Graham has provided a unique opportunity to hear leading experts contribute to public debate in New Zealand.

Sir John Graham was an exemplary New Zealander who throughout his life displayed the consistency of character and care for others we hope for in the best of our leaders. Along with his well-known leadership roles as Captain of the All Blacks, Headmaster of Auckland Grammar, and Chancellor of the University of Auckland, Sir John inspired and led many organisations, including Maxim Institute.

Appropriately, he was recognised with a CBE in 1994 for his services to education and the community, and was further honoured when he was knighted in 2011. As a Founding Trustee of Maxim, Sir John Graham’s deep love for New Zealand, his passion for education, and concern for those on the margins of life remain at the heart of our work, and we are honoured to be able to hold this annual lecture in his name.

go back

Maxim Institute is an independent charitable trust that relies on the generous support of families, community groups, trusts, and individuals—without them, we wouldn’t exist.

We’d love to have you join our Community of Supporters. We need people like you to help us continue this work—and to grow it—so we can respond to today’s challenges and opportunities and help create a better future for the next generation.