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The Charlemagne Institute: Reawakening Western thought

2018 Alcuin interns have a discussion with Professor Zach Howard of Bethlehem College and Seminary. Courtesy photos


The staff of Intellectual Takeout (intellectualtakeout.org), a website promoting the rational discussion of a wide range of cultural issues, has launched The Charlemagne Institute, a nonprofit educational institution “rooted in the Judeo-Christian, Greco-Roman tradition [working] to lay the intellectual groundwork for the great awakening.” The Minneapolis-based Institute is in the midst of its “soft-launch phase” and hopes to draw much attention and many new readers to its work this year.

“While we certainly welcome all readers, we’re especially looking to reach out to that younger demographic of millennials and Generation Z,” said Devin Foley, The Charlemagne Institute’s CEO. “We can offer them ideas and perspectives rooted in the beliefs of Western civilization, which for a variety of reasons has not been passed down to them.”

Writers for Intellectual Takeout publish more than 2,000 articles annually, and the website has a following of 9 million readers.

“We’re not trying to plant a flag in a partisan way, but in a unique way,” Foley said. “We want to provide young Americans the tools they need to live the good life and weather social chaos.”

While some of the content may seem to lean right, Foley noted that recent polling indicated that 60 percent of Intellectual Takeout’s audience identified as independent or Democrat.

Rediscovering the West

Most of the Institute’s staff are involved in research and writing articles. In 2019, they plan to incorporate more videos and podcasts. Staff members also make presentations to civic groups and organize special events, such as hosting “thought leaders,” which have included Robert George, Charles Murray and Christina Hoff Sommers.

Ted Malloch (left) and Devin Foley discuss Malloch’s book on business ethics at “Common Sense in Crisis,” an event hosted by The Charlemagne Institute in November 2018.

The institute takes its name from Charlemagne, who became the Holy Roman Emperor in A.D. 800. The name is significant, Foley said, as “it was the signal of the end of the Dark Age and the rebirth of the West.”

Topics discussed by institute writers target a younger demographic. Recent articles include views of young adults on sexual harassment, living a meaningful life, parenting and the family, loneliness and depression, Christianity in America, affirmative action, market economics and the alt-right.

“I think there are many younger Americans who want to have a discussion about things relating to living the good life,” Foley said. “For example, if we’re talking about the family, we may ask: Is there a role for a father? What is the best way to raise children?

“Many younger people, including myself, have parents who are divorced and are trying to discover the answer to these questions on their own,” Foley said.

A key goal of the institute is to promote civil dialogue among people who hold differing viewpoints. Much of the content of social media, Foley believes, is geared toward “fanning the flames of passion of the reader, getting you riled up so you’ll do something.” As a calmer environment is established, Intellectual Takeout’s goal, he continued, is to get the reader to think through issues in light of the Christian tradition of Western civilization.

“We like to talk about truth, as it seems to be relative to so many young people, the virtues, living a life of balance and self-control, and how to maintain friendships,” Foley said. “Our desire is to help young people to navigate through all the social chaos in our society, rediscovering the truths and principles of the West.”

Alcuin summer internship

In an effort to develop young “leaders in the culture wars,” the institute launched the Alcuin Internship last summer. The internship is named for Charlemagne’s lieutenant, Alcuin of York, who, per the organization’s website, “led the charge to bring about a renaissance in learning and wisdom.”

The internship is a paid, 10-week program that begins with a three-day “intellectual boot camp” for “rising seniors in college” who have an interest in ideas and have the ability to write well. The interns then spend four days a week researching and writing articles, and develop an understanding of the day-to-day operations of a nonprofit organization. They learn professional skills development, etiquette training and spend one day a week — Idea Education days — in a seminar discussing such topics as virtue, the history of conservatism, and the roots of the West and Christianity. They also tour significant sites in the Minneapolis area that demonstrate the heritage of the West.

Rosalinda Rosales participated in the inaugural Alcuin Internship. She is from St. Paul, Minnesota, and is a senior at the University of St. Thomas. She first learned about the institute through the Intellectual Takeout website. She spent much of her time writing and having editorial meetings with the other interns and staff.

Rosales noted that getting to know the other interns “was a great joy. We all brought something unique to the group, and because of this, we learned so much from each other through our conversations and collaboration.”

Rosales also assisted the development department and was involved in various fundraising efforts. She learned much during the 10 weeks, she said, and especially enjoyed the Idea Education days, which “gave us [interns] the factual and theoretical knowledge about our political system, economics, history, policy and exposed us to many great thinkers of the West.”

Her internship taught her that “our culture needs change, and the next generation has a certain duty to continue the good work of those before us. I learned where my strengths and weaknesses lie, and in what ways I can begin making a change right now.”

Although the first internship has ended, Foley noted, interns have the opportunity to receive “lifelong mentoring for questions that come along in their careers.” Rosales, for example, hopes to study law after graduation. Referring to John Elliott, who heads the Alcuin program, she said: “[Elliott] communicated that a key element to our [internship] would be mentorship. He assured us that this mentorship would go beyond our 10 weeks together. … Dr. Elliott and the rest of the staff have continued to be a resource and support, helping us navigate through our academic and professional goals.”

Hope for the future

Although not a Catholic organization, Catholics are on staff and influence the work of the organization. Foley himself is a Catholic convert who joined the Church along with his wife and six children in 2012. His conversion was sparked by a study of both political philosophy and Church history. And while his beliefs are reflected in his writing, his ongoing challenge is to present his beliefs in a way that would be effective for a “mixed audience.”

As a nonprofit, the institute is funded by donors, Foley said, “who desire to see the ideas of the West placed more in the forefront of public dialogue, seeing as this is our heritage.”

Pleased with the success of their soft launch in 2018, Foley concluded: “We’ve proven that young Americans have an interest in rediscovering the ideas of our Western heritage. It gives me great hope for our future.”

Jim Graves writes from California.

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