The Society of Fellows
The Civitas Institute at the University of Texas at Austin is a community whose members study the foundations of the American constitutional republic to advance human flourishing in a free society. We form thoughtful leaders through a civic education that prizes careful study of the American story as well as wisdom for how to live a good life. While political polarization threatens American civic life, at Civitas we advance the virtues of civil discourse. We organize our work around the three pillars of the American political tradition: liberty, constitutionalism, and property. We value reasoned deliberation, intellectual curiosity, and free speech.
Highlights from the inaugural conference of the Society of Fellows, 2023-2024
The Society of Fellows
“Human liberty,” Tocqueville wrote, is “the source of all moral greatness.” When we think, speak, and act “without constraints, under the sole government of God and the laws,” we cultivate our humanity and discover what it truly means, and what it truly takes, to be happy. In the spirit of these reflections, still timely for us, the Civitas Institute introduces the Society of Fellows, an undergraduate fellowship program dedicated to the study of liberty and its moral conditions.
A key dimension of liberty is freedom of speech. Nowhere is the freedom to think, write, and speak more critical to uphold than in the university, an institution which helps to shape the minds of young adults and future citizens. A university’s most essential function in a democracy is to equip students with the intellectual resources to become decent, productive, and independent-minded members of society. To the degree that the university fails to fulfill its mission, democracy suffers because the level of government in a democracy, by its nature, reflects the level of its citizens. The genuine search for truth in our times, in the humanities as well as in public policy, requires a culture of free speech.
How can we protect freedom of speech? Tocqueville invites “those who see freedom of the mind as a holy thing” to join him in rejecting not just the old kind of intellectual despotism—that of unaccountable elites who prohibit certain books or speeches, but also the kind characteristic of democratic times. This modern kind of intellectual despotism is enforced not by elites at the level of law but by the majority at the level of civil society. It is a kind of despotism that, as Tocqueville knew, “leaves the body alone and goes right to the soul.” It constricts thought within narrow bounds imposed by public opinion. Its enforcement mechanism is the implicit threat of social ostracism. The result is a loss of clarity in our thought and of frankness in our speech. Vigorous discussion and independence of mind cannot survive, let alone flourish, in such an environment.
With a view to helping shape a culture that supports the these principles, the Civitas Institute established the Society of Fellows, its flagship program for undergraduate students.
Through the Society of Fellows, the Civitas Institute aims to model a culture of intellectual freedom that is friendly to economic liberty, civic virtue, and constitutional government.
Applications for the Society of Fellows 2024-2025 will open on January 15, 2024.
Please revisit this page on that date to access the application portal.
The Programs of the Society of Fellows
Every year, a cohort of 25 students will participate in the following exclusive programs—at no cost to students:
- Inaugural Conference (late August) – The fellowship kicks off with an early semester conference at a luxury resort in Dripping Spring, TX. The conference features invited scholars and public intellectuals who discuss a theme in political theory, philosophy, or public policy (or a mix of all three!) that is relevant to the mission of Civitas.
- Speaker Receptions (throughout Fall and Spring semesters) – Students who join the Society of Fellows will have the opportunity to attend private receptions for leading scholars and policymakers who are invited contributors to the Civitas Institute’s speaker series, a series of public lectures at UT. Students can engage with scholars and policymakers in a setting conducive to genuine conversation.
- Book & Film Club (throughout Fall and Spring semesters) – Students who join the Society of Fellows will have the opportunity to meet once a month to discuss a short text on the theme of liberty and its moral conditions. Such texts will be selected from the works of Locke, Madison, Hamilton, de Staël, Constant, Tocqueville, Mill, Acton, Röpke, Arendt, or Nisbet, among others. Alternatively, or in conjunction with the book club, Civitas will host film screenings on themes related to its mission.
- Tocqueville in Paris (mid-May): This study-abroad program presents an extraordinary opportunity for students to spend ten days studying Tocqueville and the French liberal tradition in the famed City of Light, Paris. In this unique and beautiful setting, students will have the opportunity to participate in daily seminars on these themes, attend group dinners, visit historic neighborhoods and buildings, and gaze at some of the greatest art in the Western tradition, among other activities.
Each member of the Society of Fellows will receive a financial award. This award, it should be noted, will be dispersed in such a way as to help defray a student’s Cost of Attendance. If the student has student debt, it will be applied to the debt first before it is disbursed to the student.
As indicated above, membership in the Society of Fellows costs nothing to students. There are no membership dues, and all dinners, accommodations, and travel will be covered by the Civitas Institute.
You must be a UT undergraduate student who will not graduate before May of 2025.
You must have a GPA of at least 3.5 at the time of your application.
Students who have previously applied to the Society of Fellows may reapply.
Students who have previously applied to the Civitas Summer Honors Symposium may apply.
Students may simultaneously apply to the Society of Fellows and the Civitas Summer Honors Symposium. Students may also use the same references for both applications.
In order to remain a member of the Society of Fellows, once admitted, you must:
- Be a full-time student at UT-Austin for the duration of the fellowship program.
- Attend the Society of Fellows inaugural conference.
- Attend at least two speaker receptions per semester.
- Attend the Tocqueville in Paris trip.
- Invest a reasonable amount of time throughout the academic year participating in Civitas’ general events.
Admission decisions will be made on a rolling basis until the Society of Fellows cohort (25 students) has been selected.
Please address inquiries to:
Associate Director, Civitas Institute
University of Texas at Austin
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