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Abstracts of the Max Weber Programme Occasional Talks 2014-2015

Recent Italian Politics in Historical Perspective

 GinzborgPaul Ginsborg
(University of Florence)

14 January 2015, 17:00-19:00

Villa Schifanoia, Sala Europa




Abaut the Speaker:

Paul Ginsborg is a leading authority on contemporary Italy. He taught European Politics at Cambridge University, before moving to Italy in 1992 to take up the chair of contemporary European History at the University of Florence. His impressive bibliography on Italian history starts in 1978 with a book on Daniele Manin and the Italian Risorgimento (Daniele Manin e la rivoluzione veneziana del 1848-49, Milano, Feltrinelli, 1978; Torino). He wrote extensively on the Italian Republic stressing how social structures as the family were of crucial importance to the understanding of the specificity of Italian history. His focus moved on Silvio Berlusconi more recently and the political destiny of Italy is at the core of the present lecture.


By whatever measuring rod one cares to adopt – economic, political, cultural – the Italian Republic has undoubtedly been in increasing difficulty since the early 1990s. The long dominion of Silvio Berlusconi in Italian politics has been only one, albeit highly significant, expression of a general decline, which has been accelerated by the global crisis from 2008 onwards.

Faced with this situation, many distinguished commentators, both internal and external, have expressed doom-laden sentiments about Italy’s destiny. It is difficult to disagree with much of what they say, but I would like to urge caution. The Italian Republic – references to a second or third Republic seem to me to be rather spurious – has shown a remarkable capacity to survive.

To explain why this is so, I intend to adopt a predominantly historical perspective, concentrating on three areas of enquiry: Italy’s cultural specificity as a Catholic and Mediterranean country; the perennial role of strong families acting as buffers against crises of varying dimensions; and the long-term European performance of Italy in relation to what Edward Thompson once called ‘the great arch of bourgeois revolution’. The picture that emerges is neither comforting nor cataclysmic.

The Rhetoric and Reality of Class Politics in Machiavelli's "Istorie Fiorentine"

mccormick_200_170_s_c1John McCormick (University of Chicago)

16 March 2015, 17:30-19:30
MW Common Room



About the Speaker:

John P. McCormick is professor of political science at the University of Chicago.  He has been a Fulbright Scholar at Bremen University, Germany (1994-95); a Jean Monnet Fellow at the European University Institute, Florence, Italy (1995-96); a Radcliffe Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University (2008-09); and a Residence Fellow at the Rockefeller Center, Bellagio, Italy (April 2013). 

Prof. McCormick is the author of "Machiavellian Democracy" (Cambridge University Press, 2011); "Carl Schmitt's Critique of Liberalism: Against Politics as Technology" (Cambridge University Press, 1997); and "Weber, Habermas and Transformations of the European State: Constitutional, Social and Supranational Democracy" (Cambridge University Press, 2006). 

He is presently working on a book titled, "The People¹s Princes: Machiavelli, Leadership and Liberty".


In this talk, I hope to demonstrate that the specific details of Machiavelli’s historical account of the respective actions of the Florentine people and nobles within the Histories decisively undermine any general, evaluative statements on Machiavelli’s part that overtly criticize the people and that signal a newfound sympathy for the nobles.

I suggest, therefore, that proponents of the “late-conservative Machiavelli” thesis err when they rely overwhelmingly on the latter to the utter neglect of the former in their analyses of the Histories. They consistently ignore the blatant discontinuity between: on the one hand, Machiavelli’s demonstration of how peoples and nobles behave throughout the book, and, on the other, what he says about the 2 behavior of these respective groups in the work.

I will argue that the former contravene the latter, and that the literary-rhetorical method deployed by Machiavelli in the Histories—a mode of writing through which, even more so than in The Prince and the Discourses, deeds trump words--serves to substantially reinforce, rather than in any way undermine, Machiavelli’s previously expressed democratic republicanism in his later, seemingly more conservative, political writings. 

Paper available to download (pdf)

 Is Liberalism Secular?

Laborde Cecile Laborde (University College London)

23 April 2015, 17:00-19:00
MWP Common Room





In this talk, I ask whether liberal legitimacy requires secularism – or separation between state and religion -, and which. I argue that the best way to answer this question is to ‘disaggregate’ religion into four constituent elements; and I argue that the liberal state is secular in four distinct senses. The aim is to identify a universal minimal secularism, one not tied to a particular western history of secularization, yet one that meets basic liberal democratic desiderata.

About the Speaker:

Cécile Laborde is Professor of Political Theory at University College London and a Fellow of the British Academy. She has held visiting positions in Paris and Princeton. She has published extensively in the areas of republicanism and toleration, theories of law and the state, and global justice. She has published 4 books and has written articles in major journals of political science and political theory.

Her last book is Critical Republicanism. The Hijab Controversy in Political Philosophy (Oxford University Press 2008). In 2011, Laborde was  awarded an ERC grant for a 5-year project on ‘Is Religion Special?’. She is the Director of UCL’s Religion and Political Theory Centre. She is currently writing a book for Harvard University Press, entitled Liberalism’s Religion.

The Postsecular Turn: Enlightenment, Tradition, Revolution

,Agata-Bielik-RobsonJointly organized with the project ReligioWest

Agata Bielik-Robson (University of Nottingham)



14 May 2015, 17:00-19:00
Badia, Emeroteca





The aim of this lecture is to give a general and accessible overview of the so called ‘post-secular’ turn in contemporary humanities.

The main idea behind the post-secular turn is that it constitutes an answer to the crisis of secular grand narratives of modernity: in Rosenzweig’s case – the Hegelian narrative of the immanent progress of the Spirit; and in case of Adorno, Horkheimer, and Habermas (all representatives of the Frankfurt School) – the Enlightenment narrative of universal emancipation. All these thinkers want to rethink the place of religion in the seemingly secularized modern paradigm and see if revelation can cooperate with Enlightenment, i.e. whether it can support Enlightenment values in times of their ‘crisis of legitimacy.’

But this is not the only meaning of late-modern post-secularism. A parallel interpretation, coined more or less at the same time as Habermas, by John Milbank and his pupils, Philip Blond and Conor Cunningham insists on the return of theology in the hard-core version of Radical Orthodoxy. Radical Orthodoxy’s merit lies in gathering all theologico-conservative critiques of modern nihilism under the one heading of the post-secular reconquest of the West in the name of tradition.

And, finally, the third use of religious terminology today: this time in favour of the revolution. This variant of the post-secular debate, which revolves mostly around the ‘revolutionary figure’ of Saint Paul (Taubes, Agamben, Badiou, Zizek), constitutes a radically left answer to the crisis of Marxism as the allegedly scientific insight into the objective laws of history.

Despite irreconcilable differences between these three options, there is also a clear sense of affinity: in all three cases, religion is recollected in order to counteract the detrimental tendency, characteristic of a purely secular modernity, to reduce human existence to a monotonous quasi-natural cycle of life and death in which radically new political decisions either count for nothing or simply become impossible. But the post-secular use of religion may also be accused of such reductive instrumentality itself, summoning elements of transcendent faith merely in order to change the immanent conditions of our social life. It will also be my aim to assess this objection and see if such a pragmatic use of transcendence for the sake of immanence, which post-secular thought advocates, can be justified from the theological point of view.

About the speaker:

Agata Bielik-Robson is a Professor of Jewish Studies at The University of Nottingham and a Professor of Philosophy at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences. She specializes in all areas of Jewish philosophy with special emphasis paid to modern Jewish thought, from Spinoza to Derrida. Her field of expertise is also contemporary philosophy, particularly when in a dialogue (or polemic) with theology.

Prof. Bielik-Robson's newest book Jewish Cryptotheologies of Late Modernity: Philosophical Marranos was published in 2014 by Routledge. 


Worlds of Civil War: Globalizing Civil War in the Late Twentieth Century




Lloyd C. Blankfein Professor of History, Harvard University

Jointly organized with HEC





This paper critically examines the “globalization” of civil war in three distinct, but overlapping, ways. First, civil wars became global phenomena, seemingly distributed across all parts of the world  and then gradually coming to supplant international or inter-state wars as the most characteristic form of large-scale organized violence around the globe. Second, and closely related to the first, civil war was increasingly brought under the jurisdiction of international and global institutions, especially international humanitarian law. And third, the communities within which civil wars were imagined as taking place became ever wider and more capacious, expanding from “European civil war” to various conceptions of “global civil war” early in the twentieth century. 

Paper (PDF)


About the speaker:

DAVID ARMITAGE is the Lloyd C. Blankfein Professor of History and Chair (2012-14, 2015-16) of the Department of History at Harvard University, where he teaches international history and intellectual history.

He is an Affiliated Professor in the Harvard Government Department and at Harvard Law School and is also an Honorary Professor of History at the University of Sydney.

Among his fifteen books are The Ideological Origins of the British Empire (Cambridge University Press, 2000), The Declaration of Independence: A Global History (Harvard University Press, 2007), (co-ed.) The Age of Revolutions in Global Context, c. 1760-1840 (2010)  (Palgrave, 2010), Foundations of Modern International Thought (Cambridge University Press, 2013), (co-auth.) The History Manifesto (Cambridge University press, 2014), (co-ed.) Pacific Histories: Ocean, Land, People (Palgrave, 2014).

His next book "Civil War: A History in Ideas"  is forthcoming in 2016 by Alfred A. Knopf. 

Citizenship Between Empire and Nation: Remaking France and French Africa, 1956-1960


Fred Cooper

New York University

 Tuesday 9 June 2015, 14:00-17:00

Villa Schifanoia, Sala Triaria


A round table discussion organized within the framework of the Max Weber theme group on Citizenship and Migration


As the French public debates its present diversity and its colonial past, few remember that between 1946 and 1960 theInhabitants of French colonies possessed the rights of French citizens. Moreover, they did not have to conform to the French civil code that regulated marriage and inheritance.  One could, in principle, be a citizen and different too.

"Citizenship Between Empire and Nation" examines momentous changes in notions of citizenship, sovereignty, nation, state and empireIn a time of uncertainty about the future of a world that had earlier been divided into colonial empires.

Discussant: MW Fellow Michael Kozakowski (HEC)

Readings in preparation of the roundtable:

  • Claiming Citizenship (PDF)
  • Citizenship between Empire and Nation (PDF)
  • Defining Citizenship (PDF)




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