The Storey’s present on new book

Originally Published April 19th, 2023

Benjamin and Jenna Storey presented “Liberal Education and the Restless Soul,” a lecture sponsored by the Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government (CCCG) on March 30.

The Storeys are Senior Fellows in the Social, Cultural, and Constitutional Studies Division of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and Research Professors at Furman University. Much of their work concentrates on civil society, political philosophy, and education. Together, they co-authored Why We Are Restless: On the Modern Quest for Contentment. 

Drawing on the insights of Montaigne, Pascal, Rousseau, and Tocqueville, the Storeys’ book translates questions of contentment and restlessness into a modern context. As they related in their lecture, they were interested in “the characteristic way in which modern human beings pursue happiness” and “the characteristic way in which modern pursuits of happiness tend to fade.” 

In their lecture, the Storeys used their book and past experiences as educators to address the malaise and restlessness plaguing today’s top undergraduate students. What they found were “lives full of activity, but devoid of purpose.”

Reliving past encounters with her students, Mrs. Storey recounted that toward the end of their undergraduate careers, students look “tired, haggard, like they’ve just been through a war rather than a series of stimulating courses on the leafy campus.” Following this observation, the Storeys sought to embark upon the journey to discover the heart of this restlessness. 

Concerning the way top-tier students approach the discernment process, Mr. Storey described the tools students are currently equipped with: “the checklist and the inner voice.” According to Mr. Storey, “checklists minutely govern the academic life of the contemporary undergraduates.” He says that this approach is attractive to students due to the rationality and orderliness of the process. The inner voice supplements the checklist by providing a “warmer, more personal kind of guidance.”  

However, Mr. Storey noted the problems found when using these two devices: “Checklists make academic life look ordered and progressive, but they have no essential relation to the human aspiration for genuine excellence, much less happiness or integrity.”

“As for the inner voice,” Storey went on, “It’s supposed to be an idiosyncratic oracle, with which one cannot reason. Whose commands are simply beyond question.”

In opposition to this model of discernment that she observed in modern university students, Mrs. Storey claimed that “liberal education should provoke a conversation between your reason and your longings.” In other words, engaging in such dialogue allows one to “discover and develop the virtue and habit of intellectual honesty.”

The couple wrapped up their lecture with two practical pieces of advice for students. First, they encouraged students to ask themselves: “What is it that you really want to know with your life?” Then, they recommended asking the questions: “Who is it you long to become with your life?” and “What qualities of character are most important for you to cultivate?”

Senior John Babbo, a Tocqueville Fellow with the CCCG, told the Rover that he believed the Storeys’ talk was important for Notre Dame students to hear: “I do not think Notre Dame adequately prepares us to answer these questions, especially when the College of Arts and Letters’ doddering, almost mocking answer is ‘Study everything, Do anything.’”

Continuing, Babbo highlighted how his time at Notre Dame “has been one of integration, but the ‘oneness’ of this experience begins to crumble for me and my classmates when we are forced to ask questions such as: ‘How do I know what I am supposed to do with my life?’ and ‘What is the right balance between a ‘good’ job and a fulfilling life?’”

Babbo told the Rover that he believed the lecture’s “proposed solution of putting reason into conversation with our longings is a really good start” when addressing the culture of discernment and academics.

Readers can find the full lecture on the CCCG’s YouTube channel

Madelyn Stout is a junior majoring in political science and English with minors in ESS and theology. She’s a voracious reader who hails from Havana, Florida. When she’s not convincing people of Florida’s greatness, engaging in political banter, or reading 19th century literature, you can find her around the lakes when it’s sunny. If you want “Florida Man” stories, contact her at

Photo Credit: Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government

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