Dr. Luke Foster has been a Postdoctoral Research Scholar in Political Science with the Center for Citizenship & Constitutional Government since 2022. For the previous two years, he was a Visiting Research Fellow and Lecturer at Sciences Po in Paris. During his time with the CCCG, Dr. Foster has taught classes, led CCCG colloquia, and worked to adapt his dissertation for popular publication.
A life spent in the academy wasn’t Dr. Foster’s original plan—originally from Mozambique, he attended Columbia University with a plan to major in economics and return to Southern Africa to work in development policy. But Columbia’s Core Curriculum humanities requirements, introduced him to the liberal arts and diverted him into studying English and history.
“I discovered pretty quickly that I was mediocre at statistics and really good at reading poetry,” he jokes.
“I came to think that the most crucial issues of our time are civilizational and spiritual, not merely material. I wanted to try to address those deeper things, and the liberal arts gave me a way of doing that,” he says.
After graduating from Columbia, Dr. Foster earned his doctorate from the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought where he wrote a political theory dissertation titled “Excellence for the Democratic Age: Liberal Education and the Mixed Regime.” He explored education as a way to address the questions raised by the recent ascendency of populism—in the U.S. and elsewhere—and the corresponding increased distrust of elites.
“Rather than critiquing, I wanted to do something constructive, so I wanted to think about what kind of leadership can win—and deserve to win—the people’s trust,” he explains. “And the corollary question then becomes, how do we produce people like that? How can we educate them? I was interested in this practical dimension of the ‘impractical’ liberal arts.”
In the dissertation, Dr. Foster focuses on Plato, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Irving Babbitt, particularly drawing on their psychological understandings of democracy and the aristocratic ethos that education can instill. He is currently adapting his dissertation into a book. The CCCG will host senior scholars for a workshop to review his manuscript in March.
Dr. Foster joined the CCCG as a fellow in January 2022. He has previously taught the gateway course for the Constitutional Studies minor, which is an overview of American constitutionalism and the development of the American political tradition, and is currently teaching a new elective course about liberal education and citizenship. In the fall, he will teach a class on American political economy in the context of Western economic and political thought.
In his next book project, Dr. Foster plans to compare the French and American republican traditions. “This project grows out of my time in France,” he says. “Both of these countries are modern republics, and yet the two traditions play out in different contexts.” Dr. Foster sees the French tradition as conscious of the history of hereditary aristocracy, whereas the American tradition sees itself as a tabula rasa.
“The CCCG has been very helpful with encouraging and facilitating my own research, giving me time and resources to attend conferences in my field and present my work, and develop articles, which is really crucial,” Dr. Foster said.
In addition to his research and teaching, Dr. Foster is collaborating with Associate Director Dr. Deborah O’Malley to develop graduate student programming for the CCCG. Dr. Foster and Dr. O’Malley will host discussion colloquia with prominent scholars in political theory for graduate students.