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Occasional Talks Abstracts 2016-17

The Max Weber Occasional Talks are informal seminars by distinguished scholars invited by members of the Programme as the academic year develops.


Emergencies and Human Rights

David Dyzenhaus (University of Toronto)

7 December 2016, 17:30-19:00
Badia, Emeroteca





“Salus populi suprema lex esto”—let the safety of the people be the supreme law. If Cicero’s maxim is correct, human rights do have limits. In an emergency situation, when the safety of the people is under threat the law that governs is not the law of human rights, but a judgment about what it takes to secure the safety of the people.

I shall argue that the juridical concept of the safety of the people includes respect for the human rights of the individuals who make up what we can think of as the ‘jural community’ of ‘the people’.

It follows that emergencies do not so much expose limits to human rights as show how human rights constitute the jural community. Far from emergencies telling us primarily how human rights will or may legitimately be limited, they tell us why human rights limit--or better shape--the way in which states respond to emergencies, when they respond as states.

About the speaker:

David Dyzenhaus is University Professor of Law and Philosophy at the University of Toronto, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. 

This year he is a fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin.

He is the author of 'Hard Cases in Wicked Legal Systems: South African Law in the Perspective of Legality', 'Legality and Legitimacy: Carl Schmitt, Hans Kelsen, and Hermann Heller in Weimar', 'Judging the Judges', 'Judging Ourselves: Truth, Reconciliation and the Apartheid Legal Order', and 'The Constitution of Law: Legality in a Time of Emergency'. 



Is Modernization dead? Why developments in world politics place an epistemic challenge for social scientists

hilton root

Hilton Root (George Mason University)

16 March 2017
Badia, Emeroteca




Modernization theory has postulated a strong relationship between socio-economic development and democratization. The pivotal work of Seymour Martin Lipset triggered decades of empirical research into the causes of development and democratization. Working within this epistemic framework a group of economists in the New Institutionalist Approach (NIE) sought to refine claims about the direction of causality in the relationship between socioeconomic development and democratic change. While the earlier literature argues that socioeconomic development leads to consolidated democratic systems, NIE’s claim is that good institutions with the observance of the rule of law promote economic growth, which is likely to trigger a path to democracy (most notably, Rodrik 2007 and Acemoglu and Robinson 2012 developing Douglass North’s theory). Recent developments cast a heavy shadow of doubt on these predictions. China’s authoritarian path to development, Turkey’s descent to one-party hegemony despite its notable economic growth, and the rise of authoritarianism and populism in parts of Europe are key indications of remarkable divergence and variety in institutional trajectories.

Drawing on his experience as a policy adviser and fieldwork in directing development projects in five Muslim-majority countries, Professor Hilton Root critiques this linear approach which has become a dominant trend in the social sciences. He also questions whether the key assumptions of the equilibrium models of the senior branch of economic analysis are the prudent way to describe political and economic developments. His book ‘Dynamics Among Nations’ (2013, MIT Press), provides an alternative framework for understanding how structures form and change over time. Instead of focusing on variables independently by ‘holding all things constant’, so that cause and effect could be determined, he argues human societies should be seen as complex systems made up of networks of interacting agents – families, ruling coalitions, governmental bureaucracies, markets, unions – that influence each other within the larger system. The behaviour of one agent affects the behaviour of another, and the resulting dynamics produce novel and powerful self-organizing behavioural patterns that change the system, and create a spiral of feedback loops and linked responses. No equilibrium exists in the sense that is commonly understood in economics. Social actors change their behaviour as the system evolves, and their adaptations cause changes in the system as well. The coevolution of behaviour, function, and structure constitutes the traits of a particular system, and in their interactions the actors form networks that are in constant flux.

With this alternative analytic framework for the study of institution building, governance, and economic policy reform, Root challenges New Institutionalism and modernization theory, and sheds light on the divergent trajectories of China, Turkey, and Korea.

About the speaker

Dr. Hilton Root is a policy specialist in international political economy and development, and a member of the faculty at the George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government. His current research examines three related areas: (1) global power transition and the challenge of legitimacy; (2) the comparative and historical dynamics of state-building; and (3) the use of complexity models to understand the evolution of social institutions.


The Hobbesian Project: Science, Politics, Worship

A Cromartie

Alan Cromartie (University of Reading)

27 April 2017, 17:00-19:00







Hobbes was by any standards a late developer: by his own account, his efforts to do 'Philosophy' did not begin till he was 47.  

As might have been expected, though, he had attitudes and assumptions that developed earlier and that continuously shaped his philosophic efforts.  A surprising amount can be deduced about these attitudes.  

A biographical investigation illuminates the character of what he set out to achieve, and thus, at least to some extent, the strengths and weaknesses of the political ideas that he has given us.  It enables us to see contrasts between his early thinking and that of most of his contemporaries, but also to see interesting continuities with the Aristotelian scholasticism he affected to despise.  It is particularly informative on the relationship between deterministic science and his attempts to understand the passions.  The result is a helpful perspective on the science of politics.

About the speaker

Alan Cromartie is Professor of the History of Political Thought at the University of Reading.  

He is the author of 'Sir Matthew Hale: law, religion and natural philosophy' (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995) and 'The constitutionalist revolution: an essay on the history of England' (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), and the editor of 'A dialogue between a philosopher and a student, of the common laws of England' for the Clarendon Edition of the Works of Thomas Hobbes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).  

He was also the Director of the Leverhulme Trust Liberal Way of War Programme, for which he edited Liberal Wars: Anglo-American strategy, ideology and practice (Abingdon: Routledge, 2015).

Genealogies of Translation Theory: Schleiermacher


Lawrence Venuti (Temple University)

17 May 2017, 17:00-18:30



  picture courtesy of Karen Van Dick



This lecture first provides an account of the structure of translation commentary: one or more theoretical concepts concerning a translation (concepts that define its relative autonomy from the source text, the relation of correspondence that it establishes to that text, and the function that it performs) are usually linked to one or more discursive strategies, so that a strategy is seen as a practical realization of a concept.

This account is illustrated by concepts drawn from two influential twentieth-century theorists, Eugene Nida (“dynamic equivalence”) and Gideon Toury (“translation norms”), whose incomplete and somewhat inconsistent formulations point to underlying models of language and translation, either instrumental or hermeneutic. On the empiricist assumption that language is direct expression or reference, the instrumental model treats translation as the reproduction or transfer of an invariant which the source text contains or causes, typically described as its form, its meaning or its effect. On the materialist assumption that language is creation thickly mediated by linguistic and cultural determinants, the hermeneutic model treats translation as an interpretation of the source text whose form, meaning, and effect are seen as variable, subject to inevitable transformation during the translating process.

The lecture then deploys the account of translation commentary in a detailed analysis of Friedrich Schleiermacher’s lecture, “On the Different Methods of Translating” (1813), in which omissions and inconsistencies expose the limitations of his theoretical concepts and discursive strategies. Schleiermacher sets forth a hermeneutic understanding of translation, but it is preempted by a residual empiricism that detaches the interpretive act from its cultural and social context while privileging the values of a cultural elite in the service of Prussian nationalism.

The aim of the lecture is to argue that translation research and practice cannot advance until empiricist-based instrumentalism is replaced by an understanding of translation that is based on a more sophisticated version of the hermeneutic model. The version of that model presented here conceives of translation as an interpretive act that potentially initiates a mutual interrogation--of the source text and culture and of the translation and its cultural situation. This hermeneutic approach is illustrated through an analysis of Susan Bernofsky’s 2004 English translation of Schleiermacher’s lecture, in which she employs various Gallicisms in diction that point to the French genealogy of the German thinker’s concepts and put into question their nationalistic force.

About the speaker

Lawrence Venuti, professor of English at Temple University, is a translation theorist and historian as well as a translator from Italian, French, and Catalan. He is, most recently, the author of Translation Changes Everything: Theory and Practice (2013) as well as the editor of Teaching Translation: Programs, Courses, Pedagogies (2017). His latest translation is J. Rodolfo Wilcock’s collection of real and imaginary biographies, The Temple of Iconoclasts (2014).

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