Sheedy Program Hosts Bestselling Author of “Shop Class as Soulcraft”

Dr. Matthew B. Crawford argued that the modern tendency to try to control all domains of life endangers gratitude and grace in his February 22 lecture titled “Gratitude and the Modern Condition.” The lecture was hosted by the Sheedy Family Program in Economy, Enterprise, and Society, with cosponsors by the Center for Social Concerns; the Program on Church, State and Society; the Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government (CCCG); the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture; and the Business, Ethics, and Society Program.

In the lecture, Crawford emphasized “the primacy of receiving over making,” arguing that deferral to an outside force “require[s] a kind of courage. It is that of entrusting oneself to that which has not been made by oneself, and never could be made, but which supports and makes possible all of our making and doing.”

Crawford defined gratitude as that which “we feel when someone does something for us outside of the realm of exchange.” He argued that gratitude leads to a proper orientation of being. It liberates the person from resentment, entitlement, and grievance. Crawford continued, “Grace and gratitude have the same root, whether one is speaking etymologically or psychologically,” before examining how the pursuit of ever-increasing control can destroy opportunities for gratitude and weaken humanity.

Many students appreciated Crawford’s message, including Junior Dillon Tarle. Tarle told the Rover, “It is an important message for modern society to take to heart. Often it seems as if people are more focused on what they can get out of society … rather than what they can give back.” Tarle expressed his wish that Notre Dame would present messages similar to Crawford’s, remarking, “the university’s role in helping shape the individual through education has become secondary and is often neglected.”

Others, including senior Tim Sullivan, were more interested in Crawford’s analysis of the ills of modern society. Sullivan found the lecture “very interesting, in that it attempted to trace many problems of the modern condition to a culture of convenience and ‘safetyism,’ something which resonated with my experience.” Further, Sullivan appreciated Crawford’s “emphasis on risk-taking and self-ownership, [finding it] very apt for our times, even if countercultural.”

Crawford also headlined a private breakfast seminar with the CCCG’s Menard Family Tocqueville Fellows on the morning of the lecture. The group discussed Crawford’s 2009 book Shop Class as Soulcraft and examined how its ideas could be applied to the present day.

Tocqueville Fellow Giancarlo Donahue found the conversation enlightening: “As someone looking to go into a white-collar job, [Crawford’s argument] forced me to consider the slippery slope of a career marked by generalities rather than by concrete work.” Donahue believes that Crawford’s “viewpoint is one that most college students try to push aside, which is exactly why those students need to consider it more fully.”

Crawford is a senior fellow at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, a contributing editor at The New Atlantis, and—as he discusses in his books—a motorcycle mechanic. Beyond Shop Class as Soulcraft, he has authored other philosophical projects such as Why We Drive: A Philosophy of the Open Road and The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in the Age of Distraction. He earned a doctorate in political philosophy from the University of Chicago with a focus on ancient political thought.

Aedan Whalen is a sophomore in the Program of Liberal Studies and also studies political science. When he’s not attending a reverent Novus Ordo Mass, you can reach out to him at

Photo Credit: Sorin Fellows Program

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