Cost of Glory

Cost of Glory Ecuador event Aug 22-25: https://www.nowheresummit.com/costofglory.  Apply at the link!

An interview with Pano Kanelos, the founding president of the University of Austin and the former President of St. John’s College, Annapolis.

In this episode:
  • How founding a university is like running a diner
  • The flourishing of American universities in the 19th century
  • How old philosophers were men of action
  • The Intellectual Foundations Program at UATX
  • How The Brothers Karamazov explains our current moment
  • Pursuing Greatness by finding your North Star
  • Plutarch on self-reflection
  • Why Heroes and Truth-tellers are needed when forming communities
  • Analyzing the opening scene from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

What is Cost of Glory?

The most influential biographies ever written, admired by leaders, creators, soldiers, and thinkers for nearly 2,000 years: Plutarch’s Parallel lives. Essential listening for anyone striving after greatness. Alex Petkas, former professor of ancient philosophy and history, revives and dramatically retells these unforgettable stories for modern audiences. The subjects are statesmen, generals, orators, and founders; pious and profane, stoics and hedonists. The stakes bear on the future of Western civilization. The cost of glory is always great. Visit costofglory.com to find out more.

Alex Petkas:
Welcome to the Cost of Glory. I'm here with Pano Kanelos, the founding president of the University of Austin. On the Cost of Glory, it is our mission to retell and explore the lessons we can apply today from the lives of the great Greek and Roman leaders following the lead of the great ancient philosopher, Plutarch. And many of the characters of Plutarch are best remembered as founders of institutions, laws, cities. I think of Solon of Athens, Lycurgus of Sparta, Romulus and Numa of Rome, and the trend goes on. I could go on and on. Pompey has supposed to have founded 39 cities when he was off East.
So a university in some ways is I think more like your average ancient city than a modern city. It's like an ancient city. When you think of the scale, the universities are maybe about the size of a lot of ancient Greek cities, the big ones, bigger even. The sense of loyalty that you feel to a place and the sense of common identity that I think people often, at least historically, have identified more with the university that they came from than the city that they were born in sometimes. I think there's some interesting connection, so I thought it'd be fascinating to bring you in, Pano, to talk to somebody who is actively engaged in founding a new institution, the University of Austin. You guys have just opened up your inaugural class to start this fall 2024, so congratulations and thanks for joining us on the Cost of Glory.

Pano Kanelos:
Well, thanks for having me. I'm excited to have this conversation. Nobody's compared me to Romulus yet, so those are some big shoes to fill, but being a founder of a university, one of the founders of this institution has been a tremendous educational experience for me. I'll put it that way, so happy to talk about that and unpack it.

Alex Petkas:
I bet. Now, I got to say though, when I was looking up your bio, it seems like you might've kind of missed your calling, and your destiny at one point seemed like it might've been to continue the family tradition of Greek diners. As a child of immigrants to this country from Greece, I kind of know the mindset. But can I ask you, when you were getting started in academia, I believe you majored in English. Was that a difficult conversation to have with your practical Greek entrepreneur dad? How did he respond when you said that you were majoring in English?

Pano Kanelos:
Oh, my parents had no idea what a college major was, I mean, literally, and I really didn't until I got to college, to be honest with you. I was the first in my family ever to go to a university, both immediate and extended family, and my parents were not particularly well-educated in a formal way. They were very supportive of me going to university. They thought that that was a good thing. In fact, they thought that was sort of the reason that they were working so hard and trying to provide their kids opportunities that they didn't have. So I'm not even sure my parents even knew I was an English major. They wouldn't know what that meant, how to characterize that. I went off to college. I came back. My dad was ready for me to open the restaurant when I came back, a new restaurant, and was surprised when I wanted to go back for further education, go to grad school, but they were and have always been broadly supportive.

Alex Petkas:
How is founding a university like running a diner?

Pano Kanelos:
Well, I mean, look, in essence, what you're doing in both cases is you're trying to create something that fills a need. You're taking a risk. My father came to this country in his mid 20s with nothing but his clothes on his back and 20 bucks in his pocket, and had to build up from there and had to take risks to do that and had to identify needs, and I think that's what universities are. I mean, universities are places of a different kind of hospitality. They open themselves up to students and the scholars to pursue the particular ends of universities, and remembering always that spirit of hospitality and openness is the beginning of both of these projects, I think, is pretty important.

Alex Petkas:
I like that. I like that. There's a lot of food to be served at your typical university. One of the things that I think is really exciting about the University of Austin is that there is a kind of entrepreneurial spirits and knowing... I don't really know. You know. But I get the sense that's incredibly difficult to found a university in America today with regulations and accreditation, so that must be just a colossal work of the spirit. So could you take us to the moment that... Was it a conversation or a meeting, where the idea to undertake that colossal labor of founding a new university really began?

Pano Kanelos:
Yeah. I mean, my initial point of contact in this project was with Bari Weiss, the journalist. She and I had been introduced by a mutual friend and she was just interested in talking to a... I was president at St. John's College at that time and she was interested in talking to a college president about issues around higher education, and what was supposed to be a 30-minute call became a 2-hour call, and we kind of got deeper and deeper into what we saw the challenges of higher education being and some of the frustrations. And at the end of the call, she's like, "We just need new universities," and I'm like, "Yeah, that might be true." And she said, "We should start a new university," and I thought, "Well, great. That's a great idea." But Bari have a job and kids and I sort of settled here and she pushed. She said no. She was insistent that she thought that this was a moment where new universities would have a lot to contribute.
So she persisted and followed up, and the next thing you know, I was meeting in Austin with a small group of people, Bari, Niall Ferguson, Joe Lonsdale, Arthur Brooks and others, and sort of mulling over the prospect of building a university from the ground up. We didn't have money. We didn't really have a very detailed plan at that time, but we knew what we wanted to achieve in principle. And since I was the only person with experience actually running a university, I drew the short stick and committed to moving to Austin and getting it off the ground, and it's been going great since then.

Alex Petkas:
So what do you guys see as the opportunity here? There's so many choices, and of course some of them have been in the news lately having problems, and it's not just any university you're trying to found. You're trying compete with some of the leading institutions that have hundred-year histories. How do you frame that, the need in the marketplace for another university?

Pano Kanelos:
Yeah. Look, I think a healthy culture, a healthy society, a healthy civilization is one that continuously builds, that doesn't allow its institutions to become static or stale because you need this kind of infusion of new perspectives, new ideas, new approaches, new models in any significant area of pursuit. Higher education because it's so difficult to establish new universities, because there are so many regulatory hurdles, financial hurdles, reputational hurdles, higher education in America kind of grinded to a halt in the early 20th century. There was a flurry of new universities in the late 19th century, early 20th century, University of Chicago where I did my PhD, Johns Hopkins, Stanford, and it was a time where the publicly minded wealthy people were very interested in creating institutions of higher education.

Alex Petkas:
Wasn't there a time when England has four universities and Ohio in the 19th century has 40 new universities? I mean, it's this incredible kind of American era of university founding, that in the scope of history was short-lived it seemed.

Pano Kanelos:
Yeah. Look, as America expanded in terms of territory and development, universities, colleges were planted as we moved along, and that's why you have... Pennsylvania has 260 some colleges. If you think about that, I mean, you say that to a European and their mind explodes. But it was like wherever they were building a new town, wherever there's new industry, the impulse to create a new college was there. We did this for a very long time. It was kind of a natural outgrowth of the dynamism of this country. And then things sort of tapered off, and there were very few new universities that were founded in the mid to late 20th century. In fact, our founding here in Texas, we were officially authorized as university in 2023, and we were the first new private university in Texas since 1963, so in 60 years.
Texas, during that time, has gone from a population of 10 million to over 30 million, yet there were no new universities. So part of the opportunity here is just sort of let's go back to basics. Let's create a model that's responsive to the moment we're in, the needs that we have now. Let's present that model to the marketplace and see if we attract great students, see if we attract faculty, and we are which is validating, with the hope that we can inspire more of this, that we can return to an age of building new universities.

Alex Petkas:
Yeah. In our times, I think there's a lot of conversation about ideological rigidities, stagnation, one-sidedness. There is also the conversation about skyrocketing costs for higher education in this country, and a lot of university graduates... You can make the case statistically, it's not worth the money, so a lot of people are questioning whether higher education is really worth it these days. So what do you tell, say, the 17, 18-year-old potential student or maybe more importantly their parents? Is there something fundamentally wrong with the system? Are they right to question the system and even say, "Hey, maybe we shouldn't even do the whole higher education thing. Maybe the whole model is broken"? How do you respond to that question like, "Maybe we should just toss it out"?

Pano Kanelos:
Well, I don't think I have to persuade anybody. I mean, numbers are numbers. There are a million and a half fewer students in higher education today than before COVID. The market speak and what the market is telling us is that the value of a college degree has decreased for a significant number of people. So how do you respond to that? I mean, you ask questions. What is it that's causing this trend? Part of it is certainly the cost that attends upon higher education or the perceived cost. I mean, it was just announced this week. I'm trying to remember which... Vanderbilt. It was Vanderbilt University. Now, the annual cost of attending Vanderbilt is over a hundred thousand dollars a year, which is just hard to wrap your mind around. Now, of course, the great majority of students aren't paying a hundred thousand dollars a year. That's a different question. There's financial aid, scholarships and grants, but still, the perceived cost is extraordinarily high.
I think there's also a perceived disconnect between what is taught at a university and what one needs to learn to succeed today. We live in a moment, I think, where many young people are inspired by some great entrepreneurs and innovators and industrialists, and the sort of Steve Jobs moment in that, and they realize your college major isn't going to prepare you for that. There's something else that would prepare you for that, and maybe college is a distraction or a diversion. So thinking about that, how do we prepare students to be builders and creators and innovators, universities aren't generally oriented in that direction. So thinking about reducing the cost, creating a university that is more clearly aligned with the ambitions of the students who are going to attend, but at the same time, not just reducing universities to kind of vocational training centers, those are some of the things that we're solving for. How do you create a deep liberal arts-grounded humane education that also prepares the next generation of people who are going to build things, and institutions, and add value to the world?

Alex Petkas:
Yeah. That really resonates. When I think of the academy, academia, I think of the original academy founder, Plato, a lot being a classicist. When Plato was founding his school, if you look at The Republic as a key to what exactly Plato had in mind for the kind of students he was trying to attract and what he was promising them, he's trying to attract the most ambitious Greek sons of aristocratic families from all over the Greek world. He describes the ideal philosophical character in book six of The Republic: very smart, has a strong memory, but also is ambitious to contribute to a city and to kind of go on the track of maybe becoming a politician, maybe becoming a general. And Plato isn't necessarily trying to say, "Don't want that. The real good life is becoming a scholar like me."
Well, Plato wasn't just a scholar. I mean, he's very much a man of action. He does talk in The Seventh Letter, which I take to be genuine, that pursuing philosophy for him and founding his school even was an outgrowth of his native ambition as a Greek aristocrat from a great family. You could trace their lineage to Solon. So Plato is thinking a lot about the kind of students he wants to attract and promising them something that will satisfy their ambitions, and he's saying, "Yes, you do need to do the horsemanship thing. You should probably memorize poems like the other Greek students, but there's something else that you need to get that will help you go even further."
This is, I think, why he was attracted to somebody like Dionysius II of Syracuse and Dion, his uncle, and how he got involved in state founding projects that went awry over there. So it really seems like we need to have a conversation in higher education about liberal arts, and the applied liberal arts and the practical life have a lot of friendship in common. And I think I'd like to hear more about how you guys are conceptualizing that and training students.

Pano Kanelos:
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I'd love to talk about it. I will say as a kind of footnote, I think I'm not sure that I would take The Republic as a kind of operating manual for anything in particular. I mean, I think it's certainly much more of a thought experiment. I mean, in The Republic, you'll remember Socrates says that the ideal republic would banish all poets and creators of fiction. Of course, this is said by a fictional character in a creative dramatic dialogue, so there's a kind of irony that attends upon everything.
But generally speaking, I think you're right, the philosophers of Ancient Greece were not like tweed coat-wearing, pipe-smoking guys sitting in their rooms at Oxford or something thinking about the world. These were men of action, even Socrates. We know Socrates had fought for the city of Athens and was proud of that. And men who were engaged directly with the political life of the city, I mean, Aristotle and Alexander. So for them, I think that there wasn't a disjuncture between the life of the mind and the life of action, but trying to harmonize those, I think, was part of the agenda that they had, which is why the academy was open. And then the way I see them, the idea that philosophy could be made available to students who would then engage in public life as informed citizens. So look, in terms of the synthesis let's say of liberal arts education and let's say more applied or pragmatic education, we misunderstand the purpose of a liberal arts education if we separate those things. Too often, people think of the liberal arts as being sort of coterminous with the humanities, right?
Liberal arts means you study literature and some philosophy in that, but artes liberales are the study of all areas of human knowledge in combination. Right? So you have the arts of letters, which are the trivia, and the arts of numbers, which are the quadrivium. You're not only studying things of a qualitative nature like how to persuade people what is better or worse, but you're also starting things that you can measure like physics or music, which for the Greeks was measurable. So a true liberal arts education is a kind of synthesized approach to understanding the world with, I think, the intention of then applying that knowledge towards the ends of freedom. I mean, that's the liberal part of liberal education. Liberal education is the art of the free person. Sometimes that's taken to mean that the arts that a person who has the freedom to study is engaged. In other words, somebody who has leisure. In fact, the word school, as I'm sure you know, comes from the Greek scholē, which really means leisure. School's a type of leisure.
So on one hand, the arts of a free person are those things that free people have the, let's call it, luxury to engage in. But on the other hand, I think really the purpose of the liberal arts education is to teach people how to exercise their freedom responsibly. So you are free. You have agency. You have autonomy. You need to know things about the world, so that the choices you make are tethered to what's good and not what's bad or what's right and not what's wrong. I don't see a gap between, let's say, what's traditionally a liberal arts education and the education of an engineer. I think an engineer who's going to do things that matter in the world, build bridges, create computer programs, that needs to be informed about what the world is and what the world needs to act effectively in that world.

Alex Petkas:
Yeah. You'll have to persuade people. You'll have to tell stories to get your building project funded, et cetera, et cetera.

Pano Kanelos:
Yeah. Also, your projects have to ultimately meet human needs. Right? So a bridge isn't about spanning a river. A bridge is about facilitating human commerce, facilitating human development, facilitating human interaction. So if you think about a bridge in that manner, then as you're building that bridge, you have a different perspective on what your purpose is.

Alex Petkas:
Yeah. You guys have a motto. I don't know if it's a motto, but you guys have spoken or you've written about University of Austin being dedicated to the fearless pursuit of truth. How do you incentivize that in the students with your curriculum here?

Pano Kanelos:
Look, I think human beings are naturally incentivized to pursue truth. I mean, in fact, I think it is so essential to our nature that we call ourselves homo sapiens, the creature that seeks knowledge or wisdom. So the natural inclination that we have, the curiosity that we have, the drive to understand the world is propulsive. It's what we all have inside of us. Universities need to facilitate that and not get in the way of that, by providing opportunity for intellectual exploration, for wide-ranging conversation, for the kind of vigorous exchange of ideas. So we've discovered in all the programs we've run, which insist upon that model, that all opinions need to be heard, but all opinions need to be backed by evidence, and we're here to listen and persuade, not to win. You make that your operating system and it immediately creates a flourishing conversation. The students love it. The faculty love it. So they don't have to be persuaded that this is a good thing. They just have to be given the opportunity and they naturally gravitate towards the kind of conversations that all human beings want to have.

Alex Petkas:
You have a model that's heavy at the first two years... Is this right? On great books. Well, let's frame this another way. What's a book on that list that you're really excited is on there? I assume you had some say in putting that list together, that you think will be impactful for people trying to become pursuers of truth in the applied world.

Pano Kanelos:
Yeah. I would slightly reframe the way that we think about those first two years. It's called the Intellectual Foundations program, and say that we're really tracing our great ideas, the great conversation, in some ways, almost the genealogy of modernity like how did we get where we are and how do we understand who we are now, and kind of trace this back across the centuries, across the culture in reference to other cultures. I say this because some people know I'm affiliated with St. John's, which has a very particular kind of approach, which is you line up all the great books in order and you read them through, and they're not read historically. They're not read contextually. You just stick with the words on the page. It's almost like a Talmudic approach to the study of the great books, which I would say unequivocally, in my opinion, is a beautiful thing. I think it's a wonderful education, but it's not exactly what we're doing here.
What we're doing here is sort of, let's say, approaching the question of human experience and human knowledge more thematically. So the courses that make up our program, all the students take all the same courses in the same sequence, so they have this kind of common intellectual journey. The courses begin with a class on where do ideas come from, and then the origins of politics, and progress onto things like the sublime and the beautiful and the fundamentals of quantitative reasoning, and then make our way towards the 20th century and thinking about the vexing aspects of modernity. We have a course on the, I think, totalitarian movements in the 20th century and that sort of thing. So it's more thematically structured.
Now, over the course of this two-year period, we are primarily reading great books and discussing those books, but with a larger, let's say, thematic purpose as a whole. We are contextualizing. We're thinking about historical embeddedness, and we're thinking about the way ideas flow across time from text to text, from person to person, which is not exactly the St. John's model. But for us, the reason we approach it this way is that by the end of the second year, we want students to have a deep sense of now, a deep sense of where we have come from, what the currents of thought have been, what ideas have been helpful, which have been pernicious, what are we still wrestling with because the great conversation doesn't stop. We're here to participate in it. So you have to kind of follow the threads, so that we can have the conversations we need to have now, so we know what we can do tomorrow.
That for me is trying to keep that conversation going across time to this moment and beyond. Very different than St. John's. There's nothing on the curriculum at St. John's written after about 1950 because the St. John's perspective is we don't know if a book is really great, until it's stood up to the test of time. Again, it's a different perspective, and again, it's something I find really quite beautiful but not exactly the mission here.

Alex Petkas:
Yeah. I'm sympathetic to that, obviously, being a very dead books kind of a show host, but of course I like modern books too. So what's a book there that you could recommend to somebody today that's maybe neglected that they wouldn't expect that it explains our moment?
Pano Kanelos:
I think I'm going to suggest The Brothers Karamazov, and the reason being is I think what Dostoevsky does in The Brothers Karamazov is apply the kind of classical platonic notion of the soul to modernity. What I mean by that is if you think of the tripartite soul of a human being, being composed of intellect or reason, passion, and then spiritedness, each of the brothers in that novel represents one of those aspects of what it means to be a human, Dmitri who's the appetitive passionate one, Alyosha who's the spiritual one, and Ivan who is the intellectual. In many ways, you can read that novel as a struggle between the different parts of the soul, which I think is very platonic. So just thinking about that and the reason I think that's important is because again, it just shows that there is a kind of broad continuity of ideas unfolding all the time, but that in each generation, in each epoch, we are looking anew or renewing our sense of how these ideas might apply to us in this moment.

Alex Petkas:
Yeah. So often, I feel that the way that political movements play out and culture works, it's like you can see just human appetites at work and abstractions of the desire to find a mate being thwarted somehow and expressing itself in weird ways politically. But Plato says that one of the keys to virtue is getting all of your parts, your desiring part, the courageous part, the calm reasoning part, all working together in concert. And I think of virtue for Plato and for the Greeks as being translatable. It's often translated as, "Oh, it's not being a good person so much as it is excellence." This is the Homeric idea of virtue. I think you could also translate virtue in some senses as greatness. So how do you encourage students to pursue greatness at University of Austin? It seems to be a theme in some of your writings.

Pano Kanelos:
I mean, the first thing they have to do... Again, this goes back to, I think, the liberal arts as a kind of foundation. If you're going to pursue greatness, you have to understand what greatness is or what is it that is desirable or worthy of pursuit. Right? I mean, I think what we mean by greatness isn't simply massive success at something. I think what we really mean by greatness or at least the Greek aspect of Arete is admirable success at something. Right? So it's not just that you're succeeding, and you're doing so in a way that's admirable, and admirable because your success accords with the better parts of human nature.
So this is why it's so important for us to run our students for a very long time through the core human questions. They could be asking this like, "What is greatness? What do I want to achieve?" I'll put this in a sort of practical way. I'll show you how this applies practically to the education here. Each student has to undertake what we call a Polaris project while they're with us, which is a four-year-long moonshot project. Polaris is the North Star. We want them to find their North Star, pick something very significant and work towards achieving that. So for the first year in their Polaris courses, what they're really doing is going through a process of discernment. What are your greatest gifts and how do you bring them to the world's greatest need? Right?
So it's interior process, parts of self-reflection, but also thinking about the world at hand and how you can participate in it, in a way that's great, that's meaningful, and having them identify that North Star, and then a very systematic, purposeful approach to teaching them okay, here's your idea. How do we stress test it? How do you create a plan? How do you design it? How do you find resources? What do you need to learn? What do you need to know to come up with a plan that's going to be something you can take action with? How far can you get in four years towards this grand idea that you have? Maybe you're going to get part of the way. It doesn't matter. The whole point is learning how to identify your North star and how to strive for it. So from my perspective, what we're doing is teaching them to aim for greatness, but that greatness has to be qualified by first identifying something that's worthy of pursuing.

Alex Petkas:
Yeah. I like this very classical notion that bringing out the greatness within yourself has a lot to do with self-discovery or self-knowledge. "Know thyself," as Socrates was fond of quoting the Delphic maxim. I like what you guys are talking about here with the Polaris Fellowship. You do that through action, through Pursuing a goal, through failing, through reorienting yourself and figuring out maybe that what you thought you wanted, you didn't want. So that's beautiful. I wish I had done something more like that when I was a student.

Pano Kanelos:
The way we've designed it is that Polaris track runs parallel to everything else that they're studying. So in that early stage, while they're going through this process of discernment, trying to identify their North Star, they're in their first year of the Intellectual Foundations program and asking like, "What is goodness? What is greatness? What is ambition? What are the things? What does Plutarch have to teach us? What do other authors have to teach us?" These things kind of coordinate in an important way.
This goes back to the earlier question you had about why build new universities, to do things that aren't being done. I mean, there's no university structure this way. Our curricular structure is totally new and it's responsive to what we think this moment needs. One of the reasons that higher education is stumbling, why we see fewer students in that is that we've lost sight of the fact that universities should be places that are preparing morally grounded people to do great things. Right. It's not about preprofessional training in an entry-level job. If we reduce everything to that, to treat universities as simply vocational training centers is probably the stupidest thing in the world we could do because now you're telling young people that they have to spend four years and hundreds of thousands of dollars training to get an entry-level job. That makes no sense at all.
So if you're not doing something greater than that, if you're not doing something more elevated, if you're not teaching them about human flourishing itself, which can't be reduced to professional success... It includes professional success. That's great, but it can't be reduced to that. Then the whole process of what we call higher education loses the higher component. So remembering what's higher in higher education, what it is that we have the potential to strive for and attain, that's part of our mission, lifting that up again.

Alex Petkas:
Yeah. Well put. Really well put. I think that a proper education should look toward equipping you for the person you're going to be in 20 years, 30 years, the person that you want your grandchild to be, et cetera, and that's a much bigger ask than professional training. It requires a more serious thought.

Pano Kanelos:
Well, I mean, in a practical sense, we know that over 70% of people who are working today are not working in a field that they majored in, that the average person changes careers at least five times. So the idea that you're using education at laser focus on some sort of job that you're going to get out of college is myopic, right? Again, as you say, we're training you for the rest of your life, so that you can continually go through a process of discernment and figure out how to bring your greatest gifts to the world's greatest need, which will change over time for most people. So the most important thing that we're teaching students is how to be continual learners, how to be continually self-reflective, which allows them to grow over time and flourish to the best of their ability.

Alex Petkas:
One of the things that I think is a big takeaway from Plutarch's life is that self-reflection is often through looking at the examples of others in depth. The Parallel Lives are classics because they're really entertaining. He's an amazing storyteller. He knows he's got an eye for character and drama, but also, it is a process of self-discovery for people for so many ambitious people of history like Truman, Nietzsche, kings of France, Emerson. So you personally, what are some models that you have looked to, whether in your career or in the process of founding the University of Austin, that you've drawn inspiration from?

Pano Kanelos:
Yeah. I mean, I think we keep circling back around to the same originary point, going back to the Greeks. Maybe it's just the way I was raised, but I consider Socrates to be the patron saint of the University of Austin. The idea that to really confront reality, to seek knowledge in the deepest possible way is to subject yourself to something that's very difficult, risky, maybe even fatal. I'm hoping this doesn't end with hemlock. My inspiration I take is that there was a figure in history who believed so absolutely in the pursuit of truth, that he approached it without compromise even up to his own execution. That to me, puts all of the challenges and struggles of starting a new university in perspective. When you're facing regulatory obstacles or afraid that you're not going to raise enough money or worried about finding students or faculty in that, none of that quite compares to the journey that Socrates had.

Alex Petkas:
Yeah. It's like as you're getting the next round of bureaucratic headaches to make your way through, you got to ask yourself, "Wait a sec, I should be willing to die for this. Surely, I'm willing to wade through another 50 pages of TPS reports."

Pano Kanelos:
Which actually can be deadly, I will say that.

Alex Petkas:
Perhaps more deadly.

Pano Kanelos:
Yeah. Yeah. It's always about remembering the ultimate purpose. I mean, there's nothing easy about starting a university, and I think that's a virtue because if you continue to pursue something that is endlessly challenging, it compels you to constantly remind yourself of the ends that you have.

Alex Petkas:
What's been the hardest parts about founding a university? Is it the TPS reports?

Pano Kanelos:
I mean, that's the biggest slog going through the bureaucratic process, that just endless reams of paper that you have to produce to justify your existence. It's the least appetizing part of it. I think probably the greatest challenge though is just continuing to ask and answer the question, what is this for? What is our purpose? And trying to ensure that as an institution, that we identify and we have a common purpose. I mean, with any organization, different people have different ideas. It can pull you in different directions, and trying to pull everybody back to making sure that we have a common purpose has sometimes been challenging. It's not that I as the president are the kind of sole custodian of the mission of the university. I'm wrong too sometimes, but making sure that we continually ask ourselves the questions that will point us all in the same direction, it is an introspective challenge.

Alex Petkas:
Rousseau talks about how in order to form a community, above all, you need heroes, so it seems like Socrates could be a great North Star there. I think too about when Cicero talks about how Lucullus, the great Roman general, when he was going off on campaign to the East, that he took philosophers with him. He took Antiochus of Ascalon, this platonic philosopher. Plutarch talks about Pompey taking philosophers, consulting Posidonius of Rhodes before he went and conquered the pirates, or at least before he went on his Eastern campaigns. And I believe part of what makes a person like an Antiochus or a Posidonius or Socrates valuable to a practical endeavor is precisely that they have this kind of uncompromising dedication to not taking any BS and to really getting to the heart of things. It's not about idealism. It's about reality, and it's about really facing what the best, the highs and the lows of human nature.

Pano Kanelos:
No. I think that's right. It's sort of the role that you see in Shakespeare, for example, that the Fool in King Lear are playing, having the truth-teller in close proximity and giving them free range to express that truth. I think Lear's Fool and the philosophers that accompanied Greek generals and Roman generals are sort of kissing cousins in a way, and I also think that you see the consequence of dismissing that. I mean, it was not very long after Alexander sent all the Greeks back to Greece and decided to stay in Persia and make himself a kind of Persian satrap of some sort, that things fell apart for him.

Alex Petkas:
Yeah. Yeah. Fascinating example. Yeah. Yeah. There's so many examples from history of getting rid of your wise counselors can be the last fatal blow. Speaking of Shakespeare, you wrote a dissertation on Shakespeare, and on the Cost of Glory, we've just finished up or at least by the time this episode launches, we will just finish up this cycle on the life of Pompey the Great. So I brought a text for us to take a look at, that I thought we could read through. So Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is a text, I think, we'll get to more in depth on the Cost of Glory at some point soon because we're doing a cycle that we're going to do Cato and then Julius Caesar himself and Brutus and Cicero. As I understand, your dissertation was on the problem of memory in Shakespeare. Is that right?

Pano Kanelos:
Mm-hmm. Yep.

Alex Petkas:
Yeah. So why don't we take a look at this opening scene because-

Pano Kanelos:
Sure.

Alex Petkas:
... it speaks right to memory and Pompey the Great and Caesar, and I think it's hilarious too. I thought I could just read it and we can read some selections of it and we could talk about it. In the opening scene of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, there's two tribunes, these two Roman official guys, and they confront a couple of common folk who are in the streets looking like they're in a party mood, and the tribunes are annoyed about it because the historical context is Pompey has just lost the civil war, he's dead, and Caesar's coming back for his triumph.
So one of these tribune guys at the beginning, he goes up to a cobbler. He says, "But what trade art thou? Answer me directly." This is just kind of a funny opening. "A trade, sir, that I hope I may use with safe conscience, which is indeed, sir, a mender of bad soles." "What trade, thou knave?" Don't screw around with me. "Thou naughty knave, what trade?" "Nay, I beseech you, sir, be not out with me. Yet if you be out, sir, I can mend you." These tribunes are getting more annoyed at this cobbler for joking around with them. "What mean'st thou by that? Mend me, thou saucy fellow?" "Why, sir, cobble you." "Thou art a cobbler, art thou?" And he kind of goes on, and I love the way that Shakespeare sets these hilarious background scenes for these very serious matters. But he talks about, "Why are you out leading these people out in the streets? You're supposed to be working." And the cobbler says something like, "Well, I'm trying to wear out their soles, the shoes, so I'll have more work."
But then it turns a little bit more serious, and Marullus, one of these tribunes, gives a speech about why he's so indignant at what's going on here? And he says, "Wherefore rejoice? What conquests brings he home?" That is Caesar. Why are you celebrating Caesar? "What tributaries follow him to Rome to grace in captive bonds his chariot wheels?" He's saying what foreign kings has he brought back in his triumph? "You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things. Oh, you hard hearts, you cruel men of Rome, knew you not Pompey? Many a time and oft have you climbed up to walls and battlements, to towers and windows, yea, to chimney tops, your infants in your arms, and there have sat the livelong day, with patient expectation, to see great Pompey past the streets of Rome. And when you saw his chariot but appear, have you not made a universal shout, that Tiber trembled underneath her banks, to hear the replication of your sounds made in her concave shores? And do you now put on your best attire?"
These people are obviously fans of Pompey. "And do you now cull out a holiday? And do you now strew flowers in his way that comes in triumph over Pompey's blood? Be gone, run to your houses, fall upon your knees, pray to the gods to intermit the plague that needs must light on this ingratitude." And the other tribune, Flavius says, "Go, go, good countrymen, and for this fault assemble all the poor men of your sort. Draw them to Tiber banks, and weep your tears into the channel, till the lowest stream do kiss the most exalted shores of all." I'll end there.
I love how Shakespeare is an active reader of Plutarch. He's reading the North translation. And there's this theme in Roman history that Plutarch talks about a lot in the stories where the Tiber river itself is the place where Romans put things that they want to forget. Sulla, after the civil war, he digs up the remains of his enemy, Marius, and he dumps them in the Tiber, and the Gracchi brothers, I think, were dumped in the Tiber. So Tiber has all these connotations of memory and washing things away. So I think this passage is fascinating with the idea that rejoicing after a civil conflict requires a certain kind of forgetting. Yeah. Do you have any thoughts about how this works? Yeah.

Pano Kanelos:
Yeah. Well, I mean, I think there's several things to note that are pertinent, particularly in the moment that we live in. I mean, in some sense, this is a confrontation between the managerialist elite class and the deplorables. Right?

Alex Petkas:
Mm-hmm.

Pano Kanelos:
And then in fact, it's evident here even in diversification. The tribunes speak in blank verse. The commoners speak in prose through the whole scene. So this is a question of high status versus low status, of the custodians of culture and knowledge and the rude mechanicals who just make things and who are comical and that-

Alex Petkas:
Just looking to make a buck.

Pano Kanelos:
Just looking to make a buck. But it feels to me in this opening scene actually that it's the commoners who come out looking better than the tribunes. They're practical. They're smart. Right? Caesar's coming home, right? The war is over. All right. It's time for them to adjust. Now, from the other side, they would be criticized as being fickle. Again, this is elitism versus populism, right? What's wrong with the populace? They’re fickle. They change their mind. Whatever strong man comes along, they're going to follow, and that's what these tribunes are critiquing. However, the tribunes seem very self-interested. They're the outsiders in the imminent power structure, so they're showing their frustration. They're on the wrong side of the war.

Alex Petkas:
Outside history. Yeah.

Pano Kanelos:
I think all of these things are at play, but what you say about memory, it's Nietzsche who talks about in the ‘Genealogy of Morals’, how present action is predicated not upon memory, but upon forgetting, that in order to take action, you kind of have to erase all ties to the past, distance yourself from legacy. You have to live in the here and now. If you get entangled in the past, you can't move forward. So these very practically-minded... We have a cobbler. We have a carpenter. These are people. They instinctively understand that some sort of sentimental tie to Pompey who they once feted and celebrated in that is of no use to them right now.
So in the scheme of things, I think what this scene shows us is everybody's self-interested. The tribunes and the commoners are all self-interested. They're just sort of trying to position themselves to end up better off. The last thing the tribunes want is Caesar to come back triumphantly and to gain hold, to consolidate his power because that's bad for them. So their claims of some sort of... You often see this in the kind of elite dismissal of popular opinion. The claims they make are sort of moralistic like, "How dare you? You were celebrating and dancing Pompey's triumphs. How dare you now change course? You flip-floppers," and this and that.

Alex Petkas:
Shame on you. Yeah.

Pano Kanelos:
Shame on you. They're trying to sort of shame them. So I think it's a wonderfully efficient scene. It's very economical in setting up the kind of general conflicts that are going to come throughout the play. Shakespeare often does this. You have these completely minor characters in the beginning who are not important for the story and maybe never appear again, but their opening salvo in the first scenes is about laying out the chessboard for how the game's going to be played.

Alex Petkas:
Yeah. I love the way you unfold all that, and it makes me wish I could just take a Julius Caesar class with you, but perhaps some other time.

Pano Kanelos:
I might be able to arrange that.

Alex Petkas:
Well, Pano, thank you so much for taking the time, and we wish you the best of luck, strength and courage in the continuing founding at UATX, and hope to talk soon.

Pano Kanelos:
Oh, thank you, Alex. What a pleasure. This was a great conversation I really enjoyed, and anybody who squeezes some Shakespeare into my days is something I'm very grateful for, so thank you.

Alex Petkas:
All right. Talk soon.

Pano Kanelos:
Thank you.