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Abstracts for Max Weber Lectures 2013-2014

Joseph Weiler, President of the European University Institute, San Domenico di Fiesole 


"The European Parliament Elections 2014: Europe's Fateful Choice"

16 October 2013, 17.00, Villa Schifanoia, Sala Europa



European democracy is not in good shape. Despite the sustained increase in the powers of the European Parliament, rendering it a veritable co-legislator with the Council, voter turn-out to European elections has been in steady decline reaching a worrying nadir in 2009.

The forthcoming elections offer an historical opportunity to 'change the rules of the game.' It already looks likely that the major Political Families in the European Parliament will field candidates for the Presidency of the Commission which could be part of a decisive move to close the Political Deficit of the Union which is, it will be argued, at the core of the much vaunted Democracy Deficit. But with the promise come some huge risks. What are the risks? What are the trade offs? The lecture will focus on Europe's fateful choice in designing the next elections.

Martin Hellwig, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods, Bonn


"Quo Vadis Europe? Banks, Sovereigns, and the Crisis"

27 November 2013, 17.00, Badia Fiesolana, Refettorio




The lecture starts by asking why Europe has found it so difficult to deal with the so-called “euro crisis”. The analysis focuses on the complexity created by having a multiplicity of different types of sovereign debt and banking crises at the same time; it also highlights the failure of available governance mechanisms and the lack of workable political discourse at national and supranational levels. Whereas the origins of the crisis can be found in the weakening of various governance mechanisms through the introduction of the European Monetary Union, the crisis itself has contributed to a further weakening of governance by making the ECB a hostage to the weakness of banking systems.

The second half of the lecture focuses on the role of banking union in the reform of European governance and on the fundamental political issues in the discussion about banking union.

John M. Najemy, Professor of History, Cornell University


 "Machiavelli and History"

11 December 2013, 17.00, Badia Fiesolana, Refettorio





History is the bedrock of Machiavelli’s political thought. Dismissing the celebratory traditions of humanist historiography, he looked to history for the causes of a degraded present. Yet history itself was an unsettled concept for him. He never fully shared humanist notions of the superiority and emulation of an idealized antiquity and recognized the fragmentary and fleeting nature of historical knowledge. He likewise exposed fashionable philosophies of history (cyclical recurrence, the constancy of human passions, celestial influences, laws of nature, and fortune) as seductive fictions that purveyed the false consolation of inevitability in the face of history’s seeming irrationality. Accepting the contingency and tragedy of history, he sought the etiology of Italy’s catastrophe in a critical history of two intractably contingent and conditional phenomena – power and conflict.

Read or download the lecture (pdf) published in "Renaissance Quarterly", Vol. 67, No. 4 (Winter 2014), pp. 1131-1164

Martin Riesebrodt, Professor of Sociology and Politics, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva

Martin Riesebrodt

"Religion in the Modern World: Between Secularization and Resurgence"

15 January 2014, 17.00, Badia Fiesolana, Refettorio



For many decades the master narrative in the social scientific study of religion has been the secularization paradigm. Scholars firmly believed that religion would play an increasingly marginal political and social role in modern societies. However, the global resurgence of religions and their politicization since the 1980s led to sudden conversions. Many argued that secularization had nothing to do with Western modernity but only with religious market conditions. 
Presently, scholars hotly debate whether we witness secularization or a resurgence of religion. In my view, we are witnessing both: secularization and the resurgence of religion, and we should analyze them not as contradictions but as interrelated processes. In order to do so, we should revisit two basic concepts: religion and secularization. We need to break down the mega-concept of secularization into empirically observable trends and conceptualize religion in a way that helps explaining its resurgence.

Theda Skocpol, Professor of Government and Sociology, Harvard University


"Making Sense of the Past and Future Politics 
of Global Warming in the United States"

19 February 2014, 17.00, Badia Fiesolana, Refettorio




Starting in the early 1990s, Republican and Democratic elites and legislators moved toward polar opposite stands on environmental and global warming issues, yet rank-and-file voters remained less divided and more open to environmental protections. In 2006, when it looked as if most of the public might support government action to deal with global warming, right-wing media moguls and free-market advocates mounted a successful campaign to convince rank and file conservatives that climate science is a hoax and new regulations would hurt the economy. By 2007, pressures from below and outside Washington made compromise impossible for GOPers. Oblivious to this shift, supporters of cap and trade kept trying to strike bargains with business leaders and Senate Republicans. They failed to build support across the country, and presented an anemic message that did nothing to counter worries that new carbon caps could leave families paying higher energy prices from shrinking incomes. Most supporters of carbon capping recognize that the post-2010 Congress will not act as long as Republicans wary of challenges from the right remain in charge. But what happens when another opening comes – for example, if Democrats take control in 2016 or 2018? To be prepared when the next opening arises in Congress, organizational efforts must reach far beyond the Beltway – to knit together alliances and inspire tens of millions of ordinary Americans to push for change

Mary Nolan, Professor of History, New York University


 "Human Rights and Market Fundamentalism"

19 March 2014, 17.00, Badia Fiesolana, Refettorio



In the 1970s human rights and market fundamentalism gained prominence in the United States, Europe and Latin America. These were simultaneously discourses, ideologies, national movements and transnational networks, and policies that states and NGOs sought to impose. Human rights and market fundamentalism both claimed universal applicability and dismissed previous ideologies; they adhered to methodological individualism, critiqued the state, and marginalized the social. But despite striking affinities, there is no single relationship between human rights and market fundamentalism from the 1970s through the 1990s. 
This talk explores three cases where human rights were defined and new human rights policies developed, and where neoliberal policies were debated and implemented. In Eastern Europe human rights and neoliberalism emerged separately and sequentially, coming together in problematic ways only after the collapse of communism. In Latin America human rights violations, the defense of human rights, and the promotion of neoliberal reforms occurred simultaneously. Both proponents and opponents of human rights constantly weighed the economic implications of their positions, just as those favouring or opposing neoliberalism argued about the possible effects on human rights promotion. The third case involves women’s economic rights as human rights. Debates and development policies were shaped by neoliberal discourse and structural adjustment policies that sought to make women rational and entrepreneurial actors, primarily via microcredit programmes. 
The relationship of human rights and market fundamentalism depended on the region and policy in question as well as on Cold War understandings, priorities, and anxieties. Whatever degree and type of entanglement, the dominant understandings of human rights from the 1970s to the 1990s encouraged governments, NGOs, and international organizations to focus on the individual, the legal and the political, and to ignore how neoliberal structural adjustment violated the economic and social human rights of so many. Market fundamentalism, in turn, encouraged governments to envision nation building in neoliberal terms and development economists to promote neoliberal models. It provided the human rights movement with a further rationale for ignoring collective and economic rights.

Bo Rothstein, August Röhss Chair in Political Science, University of Gothenburg


"Guilty as Charged. Human Well-Being and the Irrelevance of Political Science"

16 April, 17.00, Badia Fiesolana, Reffettorio




Recently, a public debate has started questioning the relevance of political science. In the United States, public funding for political science research is under attack in the Congress and major newspapers have carried articles about this issue. In this talk, this problem will be discussed from a standpoint arguing that most human misery in today’s world, by standard measures of human well-being, is caused by the fact that a majority of the world’s population lives under dysfunctional political institutions. It will be argued that this is an issue that is ignored in most political science research. This analysis concludes by listing seven reasons (or sins) for why political science does not realize the discipline’s potential for being relevant for human well-being. These are: 
1. When thinking about the relevance of what they do, most political scientists think about being advisors either to the political elites or to inform the general public. These are aspects of relevance with limited importance. 
2. Most political scientists are uninterested in explaining what the “political machine” (that is, the State) can do for improving human well-being broadly defined. 
3. Most political scientists, especially the American branch, have for ideological reasons concentrated their thinking about the state on how to tame and limit its power and therefore been less interested in issues about states’ administrative capacity. 
4. Most political scientists take for granted that democracy is the main source of political legitimacy, which seems not to be the case. 
5. Issues of “bad governance”, especially corruption in public administration, have largely been ignored by political scientists. 
6. The detrimental effects of “bad governance” upon political legitimacy, prosperity and human well-being, are mostly unknown to and ignored by political scientists. 
7. Normative efforts in political theory about how to increase social justice have ignored problems about implementation and governance that are empirically and theoretically well established.

Stanley Fish, Davidson-Kahn Distinguished Professor, Florida International University


"What Are Academics Free to Do?

21 May 2014, 17:00-18:30, Refettorio, Badia Fiesolana




The paper begins by observing that very different notions of academic freedom emerge depending on whether the word "academic" is understood strongly. If it is, the freedom academics can claim is limited to the core duties they preform in accordance with a contractual or quasi-contractual understanding of the academic task. In most cases this will mean teaching and/or research activities. So limited, academic freedom is a professional privilege that follows from the unique nature of the academic job-- the advancement of truth by means of disinterested techniques of investigation and inquiry. Academics do not enjoy that privilege if they are engaged in other activities even if they take place in a university setting. A more expansive notion of academic freedom will follow from an emphasis on the word "freedom." If academic freedom is thought to be either a subset of the doctrine of freedom of speech or of the general imperative to advance the cause of freedom, academics will conceive themselves as free to use their positions in an effort to further the causes--using political--they are committed to. It is this expansive notion of academic freedom that leads, for example, to the academic boycott of Israeli universities. Those who favor the boycott resist the accusation that it violates academic freedom and argue instead that a proper understanding of academic freedom requires the boycott. I contend that one moves from a severely professional definition of academic freedom to a more global definition in five stages, which I call the five schools of academic freedom. A description and assessment of those schools is at the heart of the lecture.

Roger Meyerson, Professor of Economics, University of Chicago


 "Information Economics and Macroeconomic Theory"

18 June 2014, 17:00-18:30, Refettorio, Badia Fiesolana





Before the development of information economicsin the 1970s, there was no microeconomics of banking on which macroeconomic theory could be based.  Moral-hazard agency theory and the economics of information can provide the basis for a better understanding of macroeconomic instability.  Credit rationing and debt leverage constraints can be derived from moral hazard in entrepreneurship and financial intermediation.  However, uninformed investors' concerns about adverse selection can make debt financing more attractive to entrepreneurs and financial intermediaries, up to these moral-hazard leverage constraints. Long-term incentive contracts that efficiently solve moral hazard problems with limited liability should be recognized as a factor which by itself can cause the economy to be dynamically unstable.  Such agency problems can offer a basis for debt-deflation or balance-sheet theories of recessions, with fundamental implications for macroeconomic stabilization policy.

Lecture Slides (Power Point)


Max Weber Lectures 2013-2014 full list

Page last updated on 04 September 2019

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