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AEI Speaker Discusses the Age-Old Struggle for Contentment

Paige Roberts
Graduate Assistant, Office of University Marketing & Communications

A visiting fellow in social, cultural and constitutional studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) for the 2021-22 academic year, Benjamin Storey, Ph.D., recently delivered a lecture at Mount St. Mary’s University on the quest for contentment. The AEI Executive Council at the Mount, led by seniors Rebekah Balick, Taylor Radell and Harry Scherer, hosted Storey, who is the Jane Gage Hipp Professor of Politics and International Affairs as well as the director of the Tocqueville Program at Furman University.

storey-in-text.jpegStorey, who recently coauthored a book with his wife, Jenna Silber Storey, titled Why We Are Restless: On the Modern Quest for Contentment, described his best students as “lucky, capable people.” They are intelligent, high-achieving leaders with a vast world of opportunity in front of them; yet he observes these students as “inwardly frantic and outwardly paralyzed” as graduation draws nearer, struggling to pinpoint their desired life direction. The anxiety experienced by outstanding students is indicative of a larger, systemic problem beyond college campuses that distinctively affects humans living in the modern world, he asserted.

To better understand the lack of contentment in modern society, Storey looked to the 16th-century philosophy of Michel de Montaigne as well as the insights of other philosophers including Pascal, Rousseau and Tocqueville. Their arguments on the search for true happiness fuel his explanation of the “extraordinary discontent” experienced by historical and modern masses alike.

Exploring the pursuit of happiness is characteristic of human life, but the modern craving for status and inclination toward materialism and individualism produces a kind of “existential cluelessness,” Storey said. Why We Are Restless provides a critique on liberalism as well as examines the sources of our discontent and how we can move toward a happier tomorrow.

Storey’s work has appeared in various publications including The Washington Post, Humanities, The Journal of Politics, The Review of Politics, Perspectives on Political Science, the Claremont Review of Books, and First Things. He has lectured at Oxford University, Princeton University, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Virginia, and at the annual conference of the Institute for Classical Education.

Paige Roberts
Graduate Assistant, Office of University Marketing & Communications