Our featured CBC Member of the Week is Isaac Woodward – former John Jay Fellow at the John Jay Institute and current Capitol Hill staffer. Isaac is currently a book review contributor for us at CBC and is focusing his writing on books by Thomas Sowell. Isaac is a thoughtful and deliberative conservative who believes the great historical texts of Western Civilization have many of the answers we seek in modern society and in public policy. Read our fascinating interview below with Isaac Woodward!
Congratulations Isaac on being our Conservative Book Club “Member of the Week!” We appreciate you writing book reviews for the site! Tell us a little bit about yourself and the work you do on Capitol Hill.
I grew up in rural Georgia and was taught from an early age to value the life of the mind and the power of ideas to shape the world. After graduating from Rutgers University with degrees in philosophy and political science, I decided to take my interest in political theory into the practical realm of politics and policy.
After several fellowships and internships, I did education policy work at the American Enterprise Institute before moving to the Hill. I have been blessed to work on a variety of issues for a conservative Midwestern congressman. I handle a range of policy areas as well as managing our constituent mail programs.
What got you interested in politics?
My parent’s active involvement in the Pro-Life movement, along with a generally well-rounded education I received through homeschooling, set the framework for my later interest. Early on, I developed a deep love of philosophy through reading the works of Plato, Peter Kreeft, and other thinkers. Philosophy gives you the ability to dissect political claims through the rigors of logical examination and this ability, if applied to current political discourse, can reveal many instances of sloppy reasoning and emotionally driven rhetoric.
I got involved in politics to try and stop the grievous harm which this bad reasoning has brought about in the lives of countless millions of our fellow citizens; when we pass laws on the basis of their ability to make us feel morally self-righteous rather than on the basis of their actual ability to help people, we run into disastrous consequences.
A Conservative philosophical worldview is deeply ingrained with the humility to understand that people are not abstract chess pieces that can be moved to and fro at the whim of central planners. Conservatives see each person as a unique individual endowed with dignity and great potential for good or for evil. We also see these individuals as bound together into the innumerable “little platoons” which root our affections in our creator, our families, are communities, and in our political body, in that order. I got involved in politics to strengthen these little platoons and to unleash the God-given talents of my fellow citizens.
I see you’ve been a fellow of the John Jay Institute. What did the fellowship entail?
The John Jay fellowship entailed an incredible combination of semi-monastic contemplation of the foundational texts and ideals of Conservatism with a thrilling call to action to make these principles a reality. There were 16 fellows in all, led by a fantastic faculty of professors and clergy.
For several months, we lived, ate, studied, and dialogued about the underlying ideas of Conservatism and of Christianity. I especially appreciated the Christ-centric nature of the fellowship. During the week, each morning and evening, we had prayer services, worship, and scripture reading. This enlivened our discussions and seminars since we knew that we shared not just a common commitment to this or that policy goal, but the very foundation of our lives.
While not all conservatives are Christian of course, I find Christianity to be the most logically coherent basis for a Conservative worldview. The story of mankind, his nature and proclivities, told by the Bible best accounts for the success of conservative policies and principles in political life.
During the fellowship, we read thousands of pages of the most profound and influential texts Western Civilization has to offer. Just a random sampling of our texts includes Plato, Nietzsche, the Church Fathers, the Federalist Papers, Edmund Burke, Wendell Barry, many different books of the Bible.
Each morning we would have Socratic-style seminars led by the Rev. Alan Crippen where we would explore the implications of the texts with deep and often spirited interest. Rev. Crippen’s wisdom and wide breath of knowledge was invaluable to our discussions. I came out of the fellowship with a deeper understanding of my ideals, many great friendships, and a rousing admonition to make a difference in public life for the glory of God and the good of my country.
What books, authors, or conservative-themed books, influenced your political philosophy and outlook on life?
As I mentioned before, my early exposure to philosophy and the philosophical method had a great deal to do with my later codification of my worldview. It also led me to challenge my own beliefs. Since I was raised as a conservative Christian, I knew I would have a predisposition towards that ideology, but logically, the fact that I was raised to believe X idea did not necessitate X idea to be true. Therefore, I began to read widely in the circles of both conservative and liberal thought.
I would often come back from the library with books by Ann Coulter and Hillary Clinton. In the realm of religion, I sought out the works of the so-called Four Horseman of Atheism and those of Ravi Zacharias and William Lane Craig. After this journey of literary discovery, I emerged even more rooted in the truths of my faith and of Conservatism.
Of the books I discovered, I was most inspired by those of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien in the realm of fiction, and by those of Thomas Sowell in the area of non-fiction. Sowell has had the greatest impact on my thinking. His ability to explain the most complex economics with wit and clarity make him an invaluable proponent for the Conservative cause. Also, his ability to expose political frauds like racial agitators and inequality-hating political opportunists provides needed inoculations against falsehoods.
I am grateful to CBC for allowing me to write a series on the works of Thomas Sowell. Stay tuned for the next one soon!
Tell us a little more about yourself!
Why did you join the Conservative Book Club? How is the user experience beneficial to you?
I joined CBC for the great community of bright, and intellectually curious conservatives who come together to share their reflections on some of the greatest books out there. As a user and a reviewer, I am rewarded each time I visit the site and see what others have been posting. Everything from the most recent news stories to a great review of some old dead white male author’s book (not a critique in this case, yay conservatism!), it’s all here!
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