2017 Conference

The Academy of Philosophy & Letters

 2017 Annual Conference

June 2-4, 2017 at Villanova University.

“Man as Political Animal: Person, Family, Polis … Empire?”

Modern democratic societies hold themselves up as the singular type of regime that allows human beings to fulfill their political natures.  One representative of this type of thinking is Francis Fukuyama, who argued that with the end of the Cold War “democratic capitalism” would reign triumphant precisely because it fulfilled the human demand for “recognition.”  However, Alexis de Tocqueville observed nearly two centuries ago that the democratic impulse for equality of itself leads to the dissolution of those mediating institutions of civil society necessary to a genuine political community.  This, in turn, leaves individuals’ isolated, weak, and at last compelled by fear to entrust their lives to an ever more expansive and ever more centralized state.Despite its promise to be the truly political society, modern democracy poses threats to each of the dimensions of political life Aristotle first identified in his Politics: to the individual’s dignity as a political animal; to the family and free association; and even to the integrity of political society as such.  In the spirit of Tocqueville, the 2017 APL Annual Meeting will revisit the nature of man as a political animal.

1. Human Nature and Political Life
This panel will revisit Aristotle’s account of personhood as essentially social or political in order to consider its implications for contemporary society.

2. The Family: Cultural Threats to the Cornerstone of Society
The nature and role of marriage and the family has been challenged for a long time.  And yet, it has never been more fiercely called into question than in our own time, and the scope of the attacks upon it as a genuine institution have become more various, from the decline of “familist” customs and habits to the rise of national and international organizations that seek to reshape and reduce the centrality of family life to political life.

3. The Polis and Civil Society
Among the virtues of American democratic society, Tocqueville wrote, was local administration and free association.  The role of citizens in self-government and the role of mediating institutions in building up a civil society apart from the state he deemed central to democratic flourishing.  Such a broad and various scope to public life and the role of self-government have been in steep and continual decline since his writing, however.

4. Appetites of Empire
Critiques of American foreign policy and the liberal and post-liberal world order are often “outwardly” directed, referring to the consequences for the world of a reckless and globe-trotting imperial footprint.  But from the families who lose their sons in war and the rise of the surveillance state to the “secession” of political and economic elites from the common life of their countrymen and the consequent rise of new populist movements, it is clear that our national life has also been transformed by our entanglements abroad.