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George Rousseau lecture

Wednesday, 6 March, 2019

Enlightenment human rights between liberty and equality:

The first George Rousseau Lecture and a colloquium at Magdalen College

Monday 29 April 2019, Magdalen College, Oxford

Thanks to a gift by George Rousseau, a scholar of eighteenth-century culture with strong links to Magdalen College, the first George Rousseau Lecture will take place on 29 April at Magdalen. It will be delivered by Professor Dan Edelstein of Stanford University, whose publications include The Terror of Natural Right (2009), The Enlightenment: A Genealogy (2010), and On the Spirit of Rights (2019). Professor Edelstein will also participate in the preceding afternoon colloquium on human rights and the Enlightenment.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, two emblematic documents took for granted the view that all human beings were entitled to basic universal rights (usually within clearly demarcated political communities). In August 1789, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen began with a reference to ‘the natural, inalienable, and sacred rights of man’; 13 years earlier, the Founding Fathers of the nascent United States held ‘these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’.

In both cases reality did not match the universalist thrust of the celebratory Declarations. Moreover, eighteenth-century concepts of human rights should not be conflated with modern ideas and documents bearing similar titles. Even while avoiding such a presentist perspective, significant questions remain to be answered concerning, in the first place, the origins of the rights discourse so manifest in the American and French Declarations of the late eighteenth century; and, secondly, the intellectual genealogy of human rights from the Enlightenment onwards.

These questions will stand at the centre of the first George Rousseau Lecture and the colloquium on Monday 29 April at Magdalen. All welcome: please register free of charge below.

The George Rousseau Lecture (Grove Auditorium, Magdalen)

17:00 – Dan Edelstein (Stanford)
Liberty as equality: Rousseau and Roman constitutionalism

Followed by a reception at the Grove Auditorium and preceded by an afternoon colloquium:

Registration for the lecture

What are Enlightenment human rights? (Summer Common Room, Magdalen)

13:45 – Greetings

14:00 – Annelien de Dijn (Utrecht), Natural rights and liberty

Mark Philp (Warwick), Thomas Paine and the limits of equal rights

15:00 – Refreshments

15:30 – Céline Spector (Sorbonne, Paris), The post-colonial critique of human rights

Dan Edelstein (Stanford), Response/comments

Registration for the colloquium