Our society was founded in 1830, by Georgetown’s Vice President, Father Ryder, S.J., in order to provide Georgetown students with a unique opportunity to hone their debating skills while practicing eloquence. Ryder’s vision is captured in our motto: “Eloquentiam Libertati Devinctam,” or “Eloquence in Defense of Liberty.” For generations, Philodemicians have gathered together to discuss and debate a wide variety of topics. We are proud to count many prominent individuals, including former United States Supreme Court Justice Edward White, Justice Antonin Scalia (currently serving), and former Oklahoma Governor Francis Keating, as fellow Philodemicians. It is the dedication of our members—both past and present—which has given our society the distinction of being not only the oldest student organization on campus, but also one of the long-running collegiate debating societies in the country. While other organizations occasionally engage in debate on-campus, the Philodemic Society strives to consistently be the premier forum for debate at Georgetown University. This librarian firmly believes that we have, and will continue to live up to that goal.
For over 180 years, the Philodemic society has developed a very rich and interesting history. How many organizations on campus can say that they led a campus-wide revolt against widely unpopular policies of the administration? In 1850, members of the Philodemic wished to meet after study hours, but were prevented from doing so by utterly draconian campus rules. This unique tale—which one can (and should!) read in greater detail in the articles below—is a prime example of the society’s ability to unite behind a common cause, in spite of our differences. While it is unlikely that our current members will foment a new rebellion any time in near future, one can see that we still value the spirit of unity and camraderie that our society has exemplified for years. We remind ourselves of this very fact every Thursday evening during our weekly debates when, after two hours of spirited debate and passionate argumentation, we leave our room not merely as fellow debaters or club members, but as friends.
It is worth nothing that our society has seen its fair share of troubles. While we pride ourselves on our convictions and passions which motivate us to seek “Eloquence in Defense of Liberty,” there was at least one instance in which those passions put our solemn oath to the test. In the period preceding the Civil War, a fight actually broke out on the floor of the Philodemic over the issue of Southern Secession.
It may seem hard to believe that a society that boasts approximately 60 active members, and dozens of eager non-members would have had difficulty attracting new members but in fact, during the mid-1980s, the Society’s membership rarely even hit double-digits! Fortunately, circa 1989, the Philodemic Society was reconstituted, and has been steadily growing ever since. I am comfortable speaking for the entire society when I say that we are excited about this continued growth. We welcome new Hoyas of all stripes (that includes you MSB and NHS!) to become part of our rich heritage.
Before I end, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the hard work and dedication of my predecessors for keeping our history alive. You all know who you are. Thank you for all that you’ve done! I want to leave you with the words of Karl Marx: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given, and transmitted from the past.” While our hallowed society is, and will continue to be, shaped by our current members, we would do well to remember the contributions of our forebearers. For generations, fellow Hoyas have gathered together to practice eloquence in defense of liberty. The torch has now been passed on to us. We hope you continue (or perhaps, begin) what will undoubtedly be a very rewarding part of your Georgetown career!
A more comprehensive history of the Philodemic Society was submitted for the Society’s enjoyment in the spring of 2012. Click here to enjoy this enlightening publication by former Philodemicians Michael Desnick (COL ’11), Emma Green (COL ’12), and Daniel Rendleman (COL ’09).
– Joshua Donovan (COL ’13), Former Librarian of the Philodemic Society