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Junior Fellowship, 2019-20: Politics and Transcendence

Fall 2019 and Winter 2020

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Junior Fellowship, 2019-20: Politics and Transcendence
Junior Fellowship, 2019-20: Politics and Transcendence

Time & Location

Oct 24, 2019, 5:30 PM PDT – Mar 03, 2020, 6:30 PM PST

Stanford University

About the Event

“The trust in the Cosmos and its depth is the source of the premises . . . that we accept as the context of meaning for our concrete engagement in the search of truth. The search for truth makes sense only under the assumption that the truth brought up from the depth of his psyche by man, though it is not the ultimate truth of reality, is representative of the truth in the divine depth of the Cosmos. Behind every equivalent symbol in the historical field stands the man who has engendered it in the course of his search as representative of a truth that is more than equivalent. The search that renders no more than equivalent truth rests ultimately on the faith that, by engaging in it, man participates representatively in the divine drama of truth becoming luminous.” –Eric Voegelin

The Zephyr Institute’s Junior Fellowship introduces select undergraduate students to a world of ideas and intellectual friendship. Junior Fellows participate in the life of the Zephyr Institute through intellectual, cultural, and social experiences which seek a richer understanding of the human person and the common good. They also gain access to the Institute's network of graduate students, scholars, and professionals, who serve as mentors as they consider how their talents might best serve the university and the world.

In Fall 2019 and Winter 2020, two cohorts of Junior Fellows attended a dinner seminar on Politics and Transcendence led by Professor Juan Miguel Matheus (Stanford Constitutional Law Center and National Assembly of Venezuela). The seminar raised the question of politics in its most transcendent sense, i.e., political rationality not restricted to the empiricist horizon, but instead always already open to being and the discovery of moral truth. The seminar drew upon readings from Plato, Leo Strauss, and Eric Voegelin and also examined current challenges facing democracy. Four themes were addressed: politics, history, and transcendence; politics and truth; politics and human goods; and politics, human nature, and natural right. Subjects discussed included:

  • The question of the necessity for a real essence-existence distinction for human being, in order to make sense of the tragic character of political life – Corollary: if essence is real, and ontologically prior to existence, where does it preexist? The mind of God? The World of Forms?
  • Differences in moral life & thought across civilizations vis-à-vis the possibility of natural law, i.e., the possibility of unconditional moral obligation, rooted in the structure of human being, and therefore experienced by all human beings
  • The political charters of nations articulate noble & humane goals, and seem to revere natural law, but we continually fail to measure up. We will continue to treat others as objects and not as persons. Should we abandon hope, or is there something to be said for the morality of aspiration? (further reading: Lon Fuller, The Morality of Law, Yale University Press, 1965)
  • Possibilities for thinking about natural law in light of the modern de-emphasis on final & formal causality / loss of sense of our directedness, by nature, towards a more lasting & comprehensive reality, such as the beyond being
  • Whether and in what sense an essence of human being can be said to exist, and how awareness of such a reality should ideally inform our moral & political existence in the community of being
  • Whether human dignity could exist, substantively, without recognition of the Biblical insight that human beings were made in the image and likeness of God
  • The benefits and limitations of instrumental reason in the domain of political theory & action, and on the level of encounter
  • The difference between metaphysics and theology, and what it means for thinking about politics in its most transcendent sense

Complementing the seminar were a variety of lectures on natural law, political theology, the philosophy of education, and the intellectual life. The fellowship also included social and cultural engagements.


  • Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I-II.94.2: Whether the natural law contains several precepts, or only one? (winter)
  • Plato, Apology of Socrates
  • Strauss, “What is Political Philosophy?,” What is Political Philosophy? And Other Studies, University of Chicago Press, 1959
  • Strauss, Natural Right and History, University of Chicago Press, 1953, introduction
  • Voegelin, “Reason: The Classic Experience,” Anamnesis, trans. and ed. Gerhart Niemeyer, University of Notre Dame Press, 1978
  • Voegelin, “Natural Law and Aristotle: What is Right by Nature?,” Anamnesis, trans. and ed. Gerhart Niemeyer, University of Notre Dame Press, 1978
  • Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, University of Chicago Press, 1951, introduction


“The Zephyr Institute’s seminars were among the intellectual highlights of my freshman year. The opportunities to converse with guest speakers and fellow peers not only challenged my existing viewpoints, but they also imbued me with a renewed curiosity. Zephyr gave me the answers to a few burning questions I had, and more importantly, it provided me with the mindset I needed to keep asking questions and pursuing the good.” –Junior Fellow, Winter 2020

“The Zephyr Institute put me in touch with an incredible group of people who are interested in exploring truth, goodness, and the meaning of life. In my Freshman year at Stanford, I participated in the Zephyr Fellowship—a uniquely rewarding experience through which I made great friendships with students and professors alike. I would strongly recommend attending Zephyr events for anyone near the Stanford community, as it has helped define my Stanford experience.” –Junior Fellow, Fall 2019

“Participating in the Zephyr Fellowship gave me access to philosophical thought and texts that I would have never otherwise been exposed to . . . much of my academic journey [has] revolved around the quantifiable . . . Thinking beyond the numbers was something that I had confined to my nightly philosophical conversations with friends in dorm rooms or dining halls. Zephyr gave me the opportunity to learn from brilliant leaders and innovators, finally giving me the ability to have these conversations with a proper foundation and compass.” –Junior Fellow, Fall 2019

Extracting the dialectic from history

Yves Simon, The Tradition of Natural Law: A Philosopher's Reflections (Fordham University Press, 1965)

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