The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Study of Core Texts and Ideas

Arthur Melzer discusses Rousseau and the Modern Cult of Sincerity

Lecture by Arthur Melzer, Department of Political Science, Michigan State University

Fri, February 12, 2010 | Garrison 0.102, UT Campus

4:00 PM - 5:30 PM

Arthur Melzer discusses Rousseau and the Modern Cult of Sincerity

Earlier ages lived under the commandment: “Be Holy” or “Be Patriotic” or “Be Wise.”  Today, the reigning commandment is: “Be Yourself.”  Contemporary society is characterized by the canonization of sincerity as the highest virtue.  How did this extraordinary transformation of culture occur and what does it mean?  This lecture turns back to the thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in an effort to answer this pressing question about ourselves.


Arthur Melzer is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at Michigan State university. He is also a co-founder and co-director of the Symposium on Science, Reason, and Modern Democracy, an independent research center which is dedicated to the study of the theory and practice of modern democracy.

From 1992-94, Prof. Melzer was a visiting professor and visiting scholar at Harvard University. He received his B.A. from Cornell University in 1971 and his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1978.  His dissertation won the Toppan Prize from Harvard’s Government Department and the Strauss Prize from the American Political Science Association.  He has been awarded research fellowships by the Mellon Foundation, the Institute for Educational Affairs, the Earhart Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.  He is a winner of the MSU Social Science Alumni Outstanding Teaching Award.

Professor Melzer is primarily interested in studying the cultural discontents that modern liberal democratic capitalism has generated and the counter-ideals spawned by those discontents. His research has focused largely on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the father of almost all modern culture criticism and the originator of such counter-cultural ideals as Romanticism, bohemianism, sincerity or authenticity, secular compassion, and historical relativism. Professor Melzer also has a strong interest in the ethical writings of Aristotle and the work of contemporary theorist Leo Strauss.  He teaches courses on the whole history of Western political philosophy.

His writings include The Natural Goodness of Man: On the System of Rousseau's Thought (University of Chicago Press, 1990), “The Problem with the ‘Problem of Technology’” (in The Problem of Technology in the Western Tradition, ed. Melzer, Weinberger and Zinman, Cornell University Press, 1993), “The Origin of the Counter-Enlightenment: Rousseau and the New Religion of Sincerity” (American Political Science Review, June, 1996), “Anti-anti-Foundationalism: Is a Theory of Moral Sentiments Possible?” (Perspectives on Political Science, Summer 2001), “Tolerance 101”(The New Republic, July 10, 1991), and “Esotericism and the Critique of Historicism” (American Political Science Review, May 2006).  He is also the co-editor of eight volumes of essays on various themes in political philosophy, including The Problem of Technology in the Western Tradition (Cornell University Press, 1993) and Multiculturalism and American Democracy (University of  Kansas Press, 1998).  

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