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Occasional Talks Abstracts 2018-19

occasional lectures 2018-19


robertsSpecial Lecture to mark the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx's birth 

William Clare Roberts (McGill University)

"Marx’s politics of freedom"

6 November 2018, 17:00-18:30
Badia, Emeroteca

Chair: Bruno Leipold (MWF-SPS)



This talk examines and evaluates Marx’s commitments to three notions of freedom: (1) freedom as non-domination, (2) freedom as open-ended self-development, and (3) freedom as self-determination or autonomy.

I argue that the first notion, freedom as non-domination, motivates Marx’s mature critique of capitalism and his embrace of the international workers’ movement. His commitment to the second notion, freedom as self-development or self-realization, is fundamentally a vision of ethical perfection, and plays only a tightly circumscribed role in Marx’s political thought. Finally, the notion of freedom as self-determination is, despite a long interpretive tradition, at odds with Marx’s understanding and endorsement of democracy.

Contrary to 150 years of Marx reception, Marx’s most distinctive and powerful contributions are not to the theorization of “positive liberty,” but to the pursuit of freedom from domination. 

About the speaker

William Clare Roberts is associate professor of political science at McGill University. His book,  Marx's Inferno: The Political Theory of Capital (Princeton, 2017), won the 2017 Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Memorial Prize for exemplifying the best and most innovative new writing in or about the Marxist tradition

Watch the lecture.

Watch William Roberts in conversation with MW Fellows


John Foot (University of Bristol, Fernand Braudel Fellow EUI)

"The Archipelago? Writing a History of Post-War Italy"

20 November 2018, 17:00-18:30
Badia, Sala del Capitolo
Chair: Lucy Riall (HEC Professor)




How can we understand and tell the story of post-war Italy? How can we transmit our academic learning and expertise to a wider, non-specialist audience? Is there a master-key for understanding individual countries and their trajectories since 1945?

This talk will aim to address these questions through an analysis of the methodologies and analyses adopted for the book The Archipelago. Italy since 1945 (Bloomsbury, 2018. Laterza (Forthcoming) 2019). It will look at typical tropes used when trying to understand Italy - Italy as 'backward', Italy as 'marginal', Italy as 'lacking' various aspects often attributed to other states - legality, national identity, efficiency, unity.

The talk will also look at the debates between micro- and macro- history, and at academic and non-academic forms of writing and communication. A further key area will be that of chronologies - when are the 'breaks' in national histories and when are the moments of continuity?

The talk will be in the context of an understanding of previous attempts to write histories or studies of post-war Italy, and the dominant influence of Gramscian theory within the formation of many historians both within Italy and abroad.

Academic pressures in many universities preclude or even punish general works aimed at a wider public, and these institutional features driving research and publication. Thus, one of the key ways in which academics and the wider world have been able to interact is being closed down, institutionally, despite emphasis on 'impact' and 'public engagement'. This talk willl also provide some reflections on these trends and their influence on academic research.

About the speaker

John Foot is a British historian specialised on Italian History. His research covers a number of aspects of Italian social history. 

He has published on the Italian Labour Movement after WWI, popular cultures related to sport (football and cycle racing), the history and memory of the radical psychiatry movement in Italy which eventually closed down the asylums, and more.

NiliA joint event with the 
Legal and Political Theory Working Group 

Shmuel Nili
(Northwestern University and Australian National University)

 “All the demagogue’s men,” or: how a liberal democracy disintegrates

Introduction: Richard Bellamy (MWP Director)
8 January 2019, 17:00-18:30
Badia, Emeroteca



In previous work, I have argued that a liberal democracy can have its own morally important integrity, paralleling the integrity of an individual person. In this talk, I discuss the relationship between a liberal democracy’s collective integrity and the individual integrity of elected leaders of a particular sort.

These leaders, whom I label “media demagogues,” are distinguished by their combination of dangerous populism, systematic lies and manipulation, and an overwhelming reliance on media activity as a substitute for substantive government work.

Using Donald Trump, Silvio Berlusconi, and Binyamin Netanyahu as my running examples, I begin by arguing that the language of integrity – and the charge of lacking even minimal integrity - is extremely well-suited to characterizing, and condemning, media demagogues.

I then lay out multiple, media-driven connections, between media demagogues’ glaring failures of personal integrity, and the predictable threats they pose to the liberal polity’s integrity. Having a clear picture of these integrity connections is important in and of itself, as a way of obtaining a holistic understanding of the kinds of moral dangers brought about by the “mediatization” of politics. But these links are also important as a way of understanding the moral stakes involved in the decisions of those who are considering whether to serve or ally with media demagogues.

About the speaker

Shmuel Nili is an assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University and a research fellow at Australian National University’s School of Philosophy (Research School of the Social Sciences). His current work explores the moral value of integrity in politics, and the practical role of political philosophy in the face of obvious moral failures in public policy. Nili’s first book,'The People’s Duty' (forthcoming with Cambridge University Press), examines the sovereign people as an owner of public property, and as an agent with its own moral integrity. Nili's scholarly articles have been published in a wide range of leading journals in political science (including The American Political Science Review, the American Journal of Political Science, and The Journal of Politics), contemporary political philosophy (including Ethics and Journal of Political Philosophy), and the history of ideas (History of Political Thought, Review of Politics). Nili earned a PhD in political science at Yale University (2016).


A joint lecture with the Legal and Political Theory Working Grouplu

Catherine Lu
(McGill University)

"Decolonizing Self-determination"

6 February 2019, 17:00-18:30
Badia, Emeroteca
Chair: Eniola Soyemi (SPS)



This talk examines what decolonization may entail with regard to formulating the concept and principle of self-determination as a component of global justice, and the implications for international and transnational order.

The 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) extends the decolonization process started in the 1960s to indigenous peoples, recognizing a right to indigenous self-determination. This extension is not as straightforward as it appears, and I argue that the self-determination claims of indigenous peoples force us to rethink the traditional prerogatives of a state’s jurisdictional authority and territorial rights, deriving from considerations of both justice and reconciliation.

First, if self-determination is constitutive of political justice, then the self-determination of indigenous peoples requires making international state boundaries more porous, in order to develop a states system that facilitates rather than hinders the legitimate self-determination claims of substate transnational and transboundary agents. An international order that facilitates indigenous self-determination in these respects is one that is more basically just than one that does not.

Second, if existential alienation is the legacy of acts and practices of genocide, dispossession, and cultural destruction that have marked the interaction of indigenous peoples with the modern interstate order, overcoming such existential alienation requires the states system to accommodate the self-determination claims of indigenous peoples in ways that do not reproduce conditions of alienated agency. The good of nonalienation is an essential supporting condition for indigenous peoples to engage meaningfully in struggles for justice and reconciliation in modern conditions.

 Jointly with the Legal and Political Philosophy Working Groupoisin_book

Oisin Suttle
(Queen's University, Belfast)

'Justice in Trade: From Philosophy to Law'

5 June 2019, 17:00-18:30
Badia, Emeroteca
Chair: Anna Knapps (MWF-RSC)



In this lecture, Dr Suttle will address, without claiming to comprehensively answer, three linked questions. First, what does justice demand in the regulation of international trade? Second, what implications does our answer to that question have for thinking about the existing positive law of international trade? And third, what implications might the existence and content of that positive law in turn have for how we answer the question of justice?

Claims of justice in trade are not new. As political slogans, they featured prominently in post-colonial campaigns for a New International Economic Order, in the post-Cold War anti-globalisation movement, and in the (very different) post-financial-crisis attacks on the liberal trading system. In the past few years political theorists have begun to take these claims seriously, engaging analytically and critically with the distinctive moral features of international trade and its regulation. However, to date there has been limited engagement between political theorists working on trade justice, and more applied scholarship and practice on the trade regime, including in particular by international economic lawyers. This lecture, and Dr Suttle’s wider research agenda for the past few years, contributes towards bridging that gap.

Page last updated on 09 January 2020

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