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Saint Vincent offers essay contest; winner gets $2,000

Joe Napsha
| Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017, 12:24 a.m.

Undergraduate students can win $2,000 in a Saint Vincent College essay contest designed to encourage a discussion of themes of Western civilization, such as individual freedom, limited government, free market economics, and the philosophical and moral foundations of America and the West.

The deadline is Jan. 12 for submitting essays in the Sixth Annual Douglas B. Rogers Conditions of a Free Society Essay Competition, said Bradley Watson, politics professor and co-director of the college's Center for Political and Economic Thought. The essays should be a minimum of 2,500 words and there is no maximum length

Any competitor must be a full-time undergraduate student in Canada and the United States

For purpose of the essay, students must consider the following passage from Michael Oakeshott's “Rationalism in Politics” (1962):

“Rationalism in politics...involves...a misconception with regard to the nature of human knowledge, which amounts to a corruption of the mind. And consequently it is without power to correct its own shortcomings; it has no homeopathic quality; you cannot escape its errors by becoming more sincerely and profoundly rationalistic. … The Rationalist has rejected in advance the only external inspiration capable of correcting his error; he does not merely neglect the kind of knowledge which would save him, he begins by destroying it. First he turns out the light and then complains that he cannot see … In short, the Rationalist is essentially ineducable; and he could be educated out of his Rationalism only by an inspiration which he regards as the great enemy of mankind. All the Rationalist can do when left to himself is to replace one rationalist project in which he has failed by another in which he hopes to succeed.”

What exactly does Oakeshott mean by “rationalism,” and does it continue to haunt American universities or American culture more broadly today?”

The Center for Political and Economic Thought will appoint a committee of judges to select the winning essays and the winners will be notified in February. Any plagiarism will result in disqualification.

Prizes will not be awarded if the judges believe the essays are of insufficient quality. Any essay the judges believe are good enough to be published, will be eligible for publication in the center's journal, if the author agrees, Watson stated.

The winner will be invited to an optional awards dinner April 11 at Saint Vincent College, where John Tomasi, a political science professor at Brown University, will speak. Second- and third-place winners will receive dinner invitations and $1,000 and $500 respectively.

Essays for the contest should be submitted in Microsoft Word format to

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or

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