Faculty Colloquium: David Gutterman

Please join us for this week’s faculty colloquium, Friday Nov. 19 from 12:40-1:40 p.m. in the library’s Hatfield Room. Admission is free.
This week’s speaker is Assistant Professor of Politics David Gutterman, and he talk is titled Rousseau’s Warning: Contemporary American Politics and the Origin of Inequality.
His abstract:
As we sort out the meaning and implications of the election earlier this month, one thing is clear in the realm of American politics: very few people, if any, are happy. The most common political sentiments expressed in the United States today are anger, fear, and despair. Indeed, despite their mixed success at the ballot, the Tea Party has set the tone (or if you prefer, has been enabled to set the tone by a complicit media) of American political discourse.
The widespread assumption is that the Tea Party is a movement driven by an individualistic, anti-government impulse that runs very deep in the American tradition. I argue instead that the Tea Party represents a broader turn to therapeutic politics, in which the worth of the self is not self-made, but is measured comparatively and receives value from the esteem of others. In developing this argument, I turn to the great critic of 18th Century France, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, particularly his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1754). In this work, Rousseau traces how public opinion and considerations of status come to dominate a corrupt society, resulting in a condition where: “…domination becomes dearer to them than independence, and they consent to wear chains so that they may in turn give them to others.” By utilizing the analytic lenses offered by Rousseau, I argue that we can make a more careful diagnosis of the political conditions present in the United States and in turn begin to discover a path out of fear, anger, and despair.