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Conservatism and Progressivism in America Lecture Series

Lecture series sponsored by the Phronesis Program in Politics and Ethics and the Honors College.

We live in an era of divisive and shallow political disagreement, in which conservatives and progressives shout at one another on the radio and television, and in which members of Congress have difficulty finding any common ground on even the most crucial issues facing the nation's future. In such an environment, it is easy for American citizens to become cynical about democratic deliberation or be swayed by one extreme position or by their emotions. The aim of the "Conservatism and Progressivism in America" lecture series is to deepen and enrich contemporary political discourse by taking an intellectual, historical, and philosophical approach to our political debates. The lecture series invites scholars and public intellectuals of the left and right to speak about the principles, history, and future of Conservatism and Progressivism.

Previous Events in the Series

  • Different Sides of the Same Liberal Coin: The Consensus of "Conservatives" and "Progressives" in America on October 25 at 5:30 pm in the Honors College Commons
    Patrick Deneen (Georgetown University), author of Democratic Faith
    Read a student response to the Deneen lecture
  • Does American Progressivism Have a Future? on February 9
    William Galston (Brookings Institution), scholar, public intellectual, writer for The New Republic, former policy advisor to President Clinton

Speaker Bios

Thomas SpragensThomas A. Spragens is a professor of political science at Duke University, specializing in modern political theory and the contemporary theory of liberal democracy. He has written The Dilemma of Contemporary Political Theory: Toward a Post-Behavioral Science of Politics (1973), The Politics of Motion: The World of Thomas Hobbes (1973), and Understanding Political Theory (1976). His book, The Irony of Liberal Reason, published by the University of Chicago Press (1981), examines the impact of changing conceptions of rationality upon the liberal tradition. A sequel to that volume, entitled Reason and Democracy (1990), provides a constructive account of the relationship between rational practices and democratic institutions.

His 1999 book, Civic Liberalism: Reflections on Our Democratic Ideals, which was awarded the Elaine and David Spitz Book Prize for 2001, argues for a more complex and ambitious set of democratic aspirations than those found in the most prominent alternative theories. His most recent book is Getting the Left Right: The Transformation, Decline, and Reformation of American Liberalism. It was selected in 2010 as one of the two featured books for the Critical Dialogue section of the APSA journal Perspectives on Politics. His current research concerns the civic practices important to meet the challenges of democratic self-governance in today's world. Spragens received his A.B. with high honors and distinction from Wesleyan University, and his Ph.D. from Duke University.

Patrick DeneenPatrick J. Deneen is Associate Professor of Government and holds the Markos and Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis Chair in Hellenic Studies at Georgetown University. His interests include ancient political thought, American political thought, democratic theory, religion and politics, and literature and politics. He is the author of The Odyssey of Political Theory (2000) and Democratic Faith (2005), as well as co-editor of a book entitled Democracy's Literature (2005). He has also published a number of articles and reviews in such journals as Political Theory, Social Research, Polity, Polis, First Things, The Weekly Standard, Perspectives on Political Science, Society, The Hedgehog Review, and Commonweal. He is currently working on a book examining the concept of the division of labor in Western political thought.

Deneen was the recipient of the A.P.S.A.'s Leo Strauss Award for Best Dissertation in Political Philosophy in 1995. Prior to joining the faculty at Georgetown, he taught from 1997-2005 at Princeton University, where he held the Laurence S. Rockefeller Preceptorship. From 1995-1997 he was Special Assistant and principal Speechwriter for Joseph Duffey, Director of the United States Information Agency. He has presented work and lectured widely, including at such institutions as University of Maryland, University of Virginia, Berry College, University of Chicago, Colby College, Harvard University, Indiana University, Rutgers University, University of Tulsa, Valparaiso University, and Yale University.

In 2006, Deneen became the Founding Director of "The Tocqueville Forum on the Roots of American Democracy," an initiative that seeks to preserve and extend understanding of America's founding principles and their roots in the Western philosophical and religious traditions. And for a little bit of marginalia, Deneen is also a frequent contributor to the online political philosophy blog—The Front Porch Republic.

William GalstonWilliam Galston is the Ezra K. Zilkha Chair in Governance Studies, and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. He joined Brookings in 2006, having previously served as the Saul I. Stern Professor of Civic Engagement and Dean at the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland. Dr. Galston specializes in high profile projects pertaining to the core questions of American public philosophy, political pluralism, domestic policy issues in liberal societies, and political institutions.

 After serving as a sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, Galston received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1973, where he studied under noted political philosopher and classicist Dr. Leo Strauss. Subsequently, Galston taught for nearly a decade in the Department of Government at the University of Texas. Following his time in Texas, from 1998 to 2005 he was professor of public policy at the University of Maryland. In the 1990s, he served as deputy assistant for domestic policy to President Clinton, and later as the executive director for the National Commission on Civic Renewal. He has also worked on the presidential campaigns of Al Gore and Walter Mondale. Since 1995, Galston has served as a founding member of the Board of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen & Unplanned Pregnancy, and as chair of the Campaign’s advisory task force on Personal Responsibility, Religion and Values. Further, Dr. Galston was the editor of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, an organization he founded with support from the Pew Charitable Trusts, and also the director of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, both located at the University of Maryland.

He is the author of eight books and more than one hundred articles on questions of political and moral philosophy, American politics, and public policy. His most recent book is Public Matters: Politics, Policy, and Religion in the 21st Century (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005). Galston is also the co-author of Democracy at Risk: How Political Choices Undermine Citizen Participation and What we Can Do About It, published by the Brookings Press.