Lecture Series to Focus on Contrasts of Modern, Ancient Republics

Mercer’s Center for the Teaching of America’s Western Foundations will hold its second annual lecture series on the Macon campus, including three lectures in the fall and a conference in the spring, all built around the theme, “Republics Ancient and Modern.”  The series will feature some of the nation’s most renowned scholars in the history of political thought, organizers say.
“We are very excited about bringing some foremost scholars in the history of political thought to campus this semester,” said Dr. Will Jordan, associate professor of political science and co-director of the Center. “This diverse trio should really get a conversation started about the ideas that underlie contemporary practice, as well as about the past, present and future course of modern democracies.”

The first lecture will take place in the Fickling Recital Hall in the McCorkle Music Building on Oct. 1 at 6:30 p.m. and features Dr. James Otteson, professor of philosophy at Yeshiva University.  His presentation, titled “The Scottish Enlightenment on the Promise and Peril of Commercial Society,” will examine the rise of “Commercial Republics,” regimes committed to encouraging trade, economic freedom and prosperity. Dr. Otteson will consider the questions Adam Smith raised about the moral and ethical foundations of commercial societies. The event is co-sponsored by Mercer’s Center for Undergraduate Research in Public Policy and Capitalism.

The second lecture will be at 5 p.m. on Oct. 26. Dr. Patrick Deneen, professor of political science at Georgetown University, will give a lecture, titled “The Sustainable Republic and the Alternative Tradition in America,” focusing a darker view of the political, moral and environmental costs of modern commercial republics. Dr. Deneen’s alternative tradition leads to a vision for a “Sustainable Republic,” a vision shared with contemporary thinkers such as Wendell Berry. A location for the lecture has not been determined.

“Deneen’s talk will bring to light a competing tradition in modern thought that emphasizes the goodness of citizenship and community over and above the unlimited pursuit of wealth and is intended to serve as a lead-in to Mercer’s ‘Caring for Creation Conference,’” Dr. Jordan said. 

The third and final lecture this fall will focus on the ideas of earlier theorists of modern politics, Niccolo Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes, and will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 12 in Newton Chapel.  A leading scholar in the field, Dr. Paul Rahe, professor of history at Hillsdale College, will give a presentation, titled “Machiavelli and the Anti-Political Foundations of Politics in the Modern Republic.”

The series concludes March 24-25 with a conference on classical Greek political thought that will feature research presentations by Mercer students, as well as lectures by Dr. Jacob Howland, professor of philosophy at the University of Tulsa and Dr. Mary Nichols, professor of political science at Baylor University.

“This backward movement affords us the chance to examine features characteristic of the American political order that are rooted in modern republicanism and trace them back to both their early-modern beginnings and their ancient inspirations,” said Dr Matthew Oberrieder, assistant professor of philosophy and Center co-director. “From this, we can consider their development and their deviations, for better or for worse, from their sources to their incorporation in the American Constitutional regime.”

The differences between modern and ancient republics, and the advantages and disadvantages of both, will become even clearer as the lecture series progresses, Dr. Jordan said. The conference series, which will emphasize ancient political thought and features scholarship on the ancient Athenian polis, will focus on the political and ethical thought of Plato and Aristotle.

“The intent of these lectures is to highlight some of the important foundational differences between the democratic regimes of the ancient world and their more modern descendants,” Dr. Jordan said.

For more information on the series, or Mercer Center for the Teaching of America’s Western Foundations, visit http://www2.mercer.edu/TeachFoundations.

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