A former Notre Dame professor discusses his work, retirement, and time at the university

Michael Zuckert, a professor of political theory, retired recently after 21 years at Notre Dame. During his time at the university, Professor Zuckert served as the Nancy R. Dreux Professor of Political Science. Zuckert also acted as a faculty advisor for the Irish Rover. To honor his retirement, the Rover sat down with Zuckert to discuss his time at Notre Dame, his plans for retirement, and his forthcoming book. This interview has been edited for clarity and style.

The Rover: How did you come to your position as the Nancy R. Dreux Professor of Political Science at Notre Dame? 

Zuckert: Before we were at Notre Dame, my wife and I were at Carleton College in Minnesota for 30 years. Then the main thing that happened was that Notre Dame was interested in hiring some senior women faculty. That was a big drive in the late nineties, which is when we ended up coming here. And so, Notre Dame was interested in my wife in particular and after years of back-and-forth negotiating they decided to hire us both. We came here in 1998 and the rest is history.

The Rover: What have been your favorite moments as a professor at Notre Dame?

Zuckert: There are many, many such things. I think one of the reasons why we were interested in coming to Notre Dame is that we had been, as I said, for 30 years at a liberal arts college. And we enjoyed that very much; it was a great place to start our career. But one of the things that we developed a hankering for was graduate students. And so, when we came to Notre Dame, there was a very serious and prominent political theory graduate program. And we were delighted. I mean, we were lured here in large part by that, and that turned out to be one of the sources of major satisfaction for both of us. So, I would say that working with the graduate students was probably the number one good thing in my time at Notre Dame.

The Rover: Are there any classes that you particularly looked forward to teaching? 

Zuckert: I taught undergraduate senior seminars in many different topics over the years. Towards the end of my time at Notre Dame, I taught a series of seminars on Abraham Lincoln—maybe four or five in a row over a few years. I was working on a book over that time on Lincoln, and those seminars were a good opportunity to blend my research interests and my teaching. This was a good topic; students take really well to Lincoln.

The Rover: We understand that you have a book forthcoming about Abraham Lincoln. Could you share anything about that work? 

Zuckert: The book is an attempt to deal with Lincoln’s political thought. But as I worked on it, it became clear to me that it is impossible to separate Lincoln as a political thinker from Lincoln as a political actor. So my book deals with his political thought, but it also deals with his political action in a way that most of the books on his political thought do not. So, the book has a combined character that a lot of literature on Lincoln tends to lack. The title of the book is A Nation So Conceived: Abraham Lincoln and the Paradox of Democratic Sovereignty. It seeks to identify the core concerns of Lincoln’s thought and tries to show how his thought developed over time and in response to changes that occurred in America.

The Rover: What are your plans for retirement?

Zuckert: My wife and I have moved to Chicago. Every year since we’ve retired, we’ve also gone down to Arizona where we teach one course in the winter semester at Arizona State University. So, we’re continuing to teach, which is a good experience. Retirement also does leave more time for writing. I’ve done quite a lot of writing and plan to continue to do so. I’ve got the Lincoln book, which I hope will be out within a year. I’ve also written a lot over the years on James Madison, and I want to collect those into a volume on Madison. Likewise, I’ve written a lot on the 14th Amendment, so my aim now is to collect my 14th Amendment writings and turn those into a book too. And that’s basically it. It’s not like I’m going to now spend all my time traveling or woodworking or something like that. Retirement hasn’t brought about a major revolution in my lifestyle.

The Rover is grateful to Professor Zuckert for his contributions to the paper throughout his time at Notre Dame. 

Thomas Richter is a junior at Notre Dame from Columbus, Ohio, double majoring in political science and philosophy. He is spending the fall semester 2021 studying in Washington D.C. He can be reached at trichter@nd.edu.