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Over the last few years, I have worked my way through the entire archive of the First Things podcast series “Conversations with Mark Bauerlein.” Though I also listened to the thought-provoking series “The Editor's Desk” (hosted by editor R. R. Reno) as well as “The First Things Podcast” (under the wry, cheeky leadership of impresario senior editor Julia Yost), my focus was Bauerlein's conversations. I started this project in 2020, a time when many Americans were exploring the attractions of the great indoors. By listening to one podcast a day, I was able to finish my journey through the backlog this past winter.

Three distinct themes wind through all of Bauerlein's episodes: the state of education in America today, Christian intellectual discourse, and the challenge posed by woke hegemony. Bauerlein does the republic of letters a great service by highlighting those seeking to liberate us from stifling dogmatism. To make a diagnosis some but not all of his guests would endorse: The offspring of the Enlightenment have us in fetters tighter than any it sought to break. In the episodes on education, Bauerlein approaches the conversation as a recognized authority, as a participant, and as a parent. Many inspiring episodes feature guests active in vibrant alternatives to the public education establishment, particularly classical and Christian schools. Most important, these conversations establish grounds for hope. 

Picking favorites from so many excellent episodes is unavoidably arbitrary. But here are my top ten recommendations, in no particular order: 

Dana Gioia: A Poet of All Trades
March 9, 2023 

Gioia recites his own poetry and reflects on his life and life's work, all with mellifluous delivery. 

Willmoore Kendall's Prescient Ken
November 18, 2022 

Dan McCarthy discusses the singular contributions of the legendary political theorist, including his recently reissued book The Conservative Affirmation.

The Restoration of Western Civ
September 15, 2022 

Johnny Burtka, president of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, explains how that estimable organization works to uphold our heritage one student at a time. 

Dershowitz Cancelled
September 5, 2022 

Alan Dershowitz clearly relishes every minute of the free air and thoughtful conversation that Mark Bauerlein offers outside the confines of academia and the mainstream media.

The Life and Works of Huldrych Zwingli
March 14, 2022 

F. Bruce Gordon tells the remarkable story of the Swiss reformer, a complex man at the center of a fascinating period. 

Mark Bauerlein on Lincoln's Legacy
December 15, 2021 

This is an episode of “From the Editor's Desk,” but I include it because it features our “Conversations” host. R. R. Reno talks with Bauerlein about his First Things article “A Less Perfect Union,” which discusses the greatness and ambiguity of Lincoln's legacy amid our current travails. 

Harry Jaffa's American Ideal
October 4, 2021 

Glenn Ellmers explains the work of Harry Jaffa, who, like his friend and sparring partner Kendall, was a conservative, a patriot, and a democrat—but of a somewhat different sort. 

Elegies for Friends
April 12, 2021 

George Weigel reflects on a lifetime of meeting and befriending a fascinating cast of characters in religion and public life. 

After Identity Politics
March 18, 2019 

Mark Lilla shares a liberal's concerns over the politics of identity, as he and Bauerlein discuss that movement's practical, intellectual, and biographical dimensions.

Reno's Books” 
June 29, 2018 

Reno and Bauerlein discuss formative books as catalysts of the life of the mind and as biographical milestones. 

Rein Staal is professor of political science at William Jewell College. 

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Image by OU College of Professional and Continuing Studies licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped. 

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