Olin Center offers last conference on ‘Empire and Liberty’By William Harms
The role of the United States as the world’s dominant political power will be examined Friday, May 6, and Saturday, May 7, at the conference “Empire and Liberty.” Presented by the John M. Olin Center for Inquiry into the Theory and Practice of Democracy at the University, the event will focus on tensions between imperial rule with domestic liberty, said Nathan Tarcov, Professor in Social Thought and Director of the center.
“While the United States is rarely thought to have an empire in the sense of regularly sending its citizens to rule other peoples directly in the fashion of the Roman and British empires, it is sometimes thought to exercise imperial power in the looser sense of compelling other states to do its will or serve its interests in the Athenian mode,” Tarcov said.
Scholars at the conference will explore a wide variety of historical and theoretical questions regarding the character of the republican Roman Empire, the Athenian Empire and the British Empire. They will examine “the practical demands of wielding imperial power, the justice and injustice of various imperial regimes, the qualities of soul that lead to and arise from empire, and the compatibility of empire with freedom at home and abroad,” Tarcov said.
Those discussions will lead to a consideration of whether the United States has had an empire in the past and whether it has become or is becoming a worldwide empire today, as well as whether such an empire would be good for America and Americans, and whether it would be good for the world.
The conference, which will take place in the third-floor lecture hall of Swift Hall, will begin at 9:30 a.m. Friday, May 6, with a session titled “The Demands of Empire.” “Imperial Regimes, Justice and the Human Soul: Theoretical Approaches” will be presented at 2 p.m.
The conference will resume at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, May 7, with the session “Imperial Regimes, Justice and the Human Soul: Historical Approaches.” It will be followed at 2 p.m. with a roundtable discussion titled “The Past, Present and Future of American Empire.”
Popular political commentator William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, will join the scholars participating in this discussion.
The conference is the final in a series that the John M. Olin Center began in 1984. According to Tarcov, the John M. Olin Foundation, which has been financing the center, has expended all its remaining resources and, after this conference, is ceasing operations, as is the center.
“The Olin Center has organized 26 conferences and over 200 lectures or seminars over the past 21 years,” said Tarcov. “There are too many highlights to name, but I remember vividly lectures by Saul Bellow, Carey McWilliams, George Will, George McGovern, Richard M. Daley, Czeslaw Milosz, Francis Fukuyama, Francis George and Azar Nafisi.
“The Center gave me the chance to work closely with my dear friend and co-founder Allan Bloom, and with my good friends and associate directors Joseph Cropsey, Francois Furet, Leon Kass, Ralph Lerner, Mark Lilla and Robert Pippin.”