Oct. 4, 2001
Vol. 21 No. 2

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    Olin Center Series to view how ‘New World’ replaced European aristocracy

    By Josh Schonwald
    News Office

    This year, the John M. Olin Center Lecture and Seminar Series will look at how Americans, beginning in the late 19th century, confronted an unprecedented question: What is democratic culture?

    “Those who founded the American democracy did so with souls furnished by the culture of aristocratic Europe,” said Nathan Tarcov, Professor in the Committee on Social Thought and Director of the Olin Center. “But this culture was illiberal and pre-modern. How could a democratic nation express itself in the borrowed elegance of an aristocratic past?”

    The series, which is titled “The Formation of An American Democratic Culture” and will begin Wednesday, Oct. 17, will examine how leading American statesmen, poets, novelists and filmmakers have worked to forge a democratic ethos.

    “Although the European tradition remained for quite some time the model for American attempts to understand their “New World” or to create beauty, that model gradually began to feel like a poor fit for a young society like no other in the history of humankind,” added Robert Pippin, the Raymond W. and Martha Hilpert Gruner Distinguished Service Professor and Chairman of the Committee on Social Thought, who helped organize the series.

    Robert Dawidoff, Claremont Graduate University, will open the series Wednesday, Oct. 17, with a lecture on two essays from George Santayana’s The Genteel Tradition. Dawidoff, who wrote The Genteel Tradition and the Sacred Rage: High Culture vs. Democracy in Adams, James, and Santayana, will lead a discussion Thursday, Oct. 18, on the 1935 film Top Hat, following its screening. Dawidoff is the author of four books, including Making History Matter, which was published last year.

    Joel Schwartz, a political scientist and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., will give a lecture Wednesday, Oct. 31. He will present “Democratic Responses to American Poverty, Past and Present,” which is based on the subject of his recently published book, Fighting Poverty with Virtue: Moral Reform and America’s Urban Poor, 18252000.

    Yale University English professor David Bromwich will lead two seminars Tuesday, Nov. 6 and Wednesday, Nov. 7, on the theme “American Possibility and American Necessity.” Bromwich will base his seminars on several readings, including short stories written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James and Ernest Hemingway, and the essay “Self Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

    For each of this year’s lectures and seminars, the Olin Center will provide information on essential readings. Those readings will be held on reserve at the Joseph Regenstein Library.

    Dawidoff’s and Schwartz’s lectures will begin at 4:30 p.m. in Room 122 in the Social Sciences Research Building, 1126 E. 59th St. The Olin Center’s Web site, www.olincenter.uchicago.edu, has additional information about the series events.