The Columns

Roger Mudd Center for Ethics to Focus on Ethics of Citizenship

— by on September 3rd, 2015

The Roger Mudd Center for Ethics at Washington and Lee University will examine “The Ethics of Citizenship” during its 2015­–2016 lecture and conference series. The center will bring prominent speakers to campus to discuss the role of liberal arts in fostering civic agency, the responsibilities of scientists in a democracy, the ethics of immigration and the morality of governmental whistle-blowing. The series begins on Sept. 24 and ends in April 2016. It is free and open to the public.

The subject for the year’s programming was sparked by a combination of factors, according to Angela Smith, the Roger Mudd Professor of Ethics at W&L and director of the Mudd Center. “First, since 2016 is a presidential election year, this is a good time to reflect upon both the rights and the responsibilities of democratic citizenship,” said Smith. “Second, one of the big debates we are currently having in this country concerns our immigration system and who should be granted a path to citizenship.”

Smith continued, “Finally, one of the themes that emerged from our series last year, ‘Race and Justice in America,’ is that African-Americans in this country are too often treated as second-class citizens. Some of our speakers this year will pick up on this theme and explore what it would take to fully realize first-class citizenship for all Americans. So there are a number of important ethical issues that will benefit from thoughtful, reasoned discussion.”

Smith noted that the concept of citizenship is often used to talk about a variety of things—the enjoyment of certain rights and privileges, political and civic engagement, experiences of collective identity and solidarity, and the possession of formal national membership status. “For example, one can be a good global citizen or a good citizen of Washington and Lee without being a legal citizen of the United States. This series will explore the nature and value of citizenship in all of its different senses, as well as more specific questions about the justice of particular practices of granting or withholding legal national citizenship status,” said Smith.

On Sept. 24, Danielle Allen will begin the series by delivering the Mudd Distinguished Lecture in Ethics, “Participatory Readiness: On the Liberal Arts and the Ethics of Citizenship,” at 5:00 p.m. in Stackhouse Theater. She is the director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics and professor of government at Harvard University. Allen previously served for eight years as the UPS Foundation Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University. She is widely known for her work on justice and citizenship in both ancient Athens and modern America.

“Danielle Allen is an accomplished classicist and political theorist and is the ideal keynote speaker for this series,” noted Smith. “Her book ‘Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Board of Education’ (2004) brilliantly explores the ways in which interracial distrust impedes the effective functioning of democracy. Allen advocates for new habits of citizenship to restore this trust and to revitalize our democratic practices.” Her more recent publications include “Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality” (2014) and two co-edited books, “Education, Justice and Democracy” (2013) and “From Voice to Influence: Citizenship in a Digital Age” (2015).

On Oct. 8, Melissa Lane, the Class of 1943 Professor of Politics at Princeton University, will talk on “The Democratic Ethics of Communicating Climate Change: Insights from Aristotle” at 5:00 p.m. in Northen Auditorium. As a political theorist, Lane has written extensively on how ancient Greek political thought holds lessons for addressing contemporary moral and political problems. Her book “Eco-Republic: What the Ancients Can Teach Us About Ethics, Virtue and Sustainable Living” (2011) uses insights from Plato to put forward a new vision of citizenship that can support an ecologically sustainable society.

On Oct. 26, the Mudd Center will sponsor a lunchtime poetry reading and discussion by Seth Michelson, assistant professor of Spanish at W&L, from 12:15 to 1:20 p.m. in the Hillel Multipurpose Room. Michelson engages themes of citizenship and belonging, including border and immigration issues. Those interested in attending this reading, which will include lunch, should email mudd-center@wlu.edu to RSVP.

On Nov. 6 and 7, the series’ fall programming will end with a two-day conference on “The Ethics of Immigration.” On Nov. 6, Joseph Carens, professor of political science at the University of Toronto, will give the keynote address, “Immigration and Citizenship,” at 4:30 p.m. in Stackhouse Theater. Carens is one of the foremost political theorists working on issues of immigration today. His book, “The Ethics of Immigration” (2013), synthesizes a lifetime of work on normative issues of transnational migration, citizenship and democracy.

The Nov. 7 portion of the conference will feature six experts on the ethics of immigration from around the country and a lunchtime panel of policy experts who will discuss current U.S. immigration policy. The speakers are from the fields of law, journalism, philosophy, sociology, political science and creative writing.

In the winter, the Mudd Center will host additional talks related to the ethics of citizenship, including an address in January by award-winning poet Claudia Rankine on her recent book “Citizen: An American Lyric” (2014), which uses poetry, essays, cultural criticism and visual images to explore what it means to be an American citizen in an allegedly post-racial society.

In late February or early March, the center will host a mini-conference on the ethics of governmental whistle-blowing. And in early April, British historian Quentin Skinner and British philosopher Susan James will give three public lectures on citizenship and will visit classes and student groups as scholars-in-residence for a week.

Quentin Skinner has written extensively about conceptions of citizenship in early-modern Europe, focusing on the work of Niccolo Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes. His best-known work, “Foundations of Modern Political Thought” (1978), was listed by the Times Literary Supplement as one of the 100 most influential books since World War II.

Susan James focuses on the intersections between early modern philosophy, feminist philosophy and political philosophy. She is completing a book, “Spinoza on Learning to Live Together,” which examines the importance of passions in shaping our interpretations of the world and our political practices, especially our practices of citizenship.

During the winter term, the Mudd Center may also bring performance art to W&L’s Staniar Gallery. “I hope to involve as many disciplines as possible in this series,” said Smith. “We all benefit from approaching these complex ethical questions from a truly interdisciplinary perspective.”

The Mudd Center was established in 2010 through a gift to the university from award-winning journalist Roger Mudd, a 1950 graduate of W&L. In making his gift, Mudd said that “given the state of ethics in our current culture, this seems a fitting time to endow a center for the study of ethics, and my university is the fitting home.”

For full details of this series, visit: http://www.wlu.edu/mudd-center/programs-and-events/2015-2016-the-ethics-of-citizenship

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