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Reading Plato's Republic in America Today

plato republic america today


By Dr. Neil Rogachevsky
Straus Center Associate Director and Assistant Professor

On Monday, Feb. 14, Dr. Alex Priou, teaching assistant professor at the Herbst Program for Engineering, Ethics & Society at the University of Colorado, presented the lecture “Reading Plato’s Republic in America Today” to Dr. Neil Rogachevsky's Great Political Thinker’s class.

The course is being offered at Yeshiva College in partnership with the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought, and the presentation was part of the Jack Miller Center lecture series.

In his thought-provoking lecture, Dr. Priou presented a compelling case that Plato’s work, relevant as it always is, may be growing more immediate and urgent in our confusing and tumultuous times.

Surveying the political and intellectual scene today, Dr. Priou highlighted the growing tendency, apparent especially at the political extremes, to reject the foundations of America and Western civilization as either hopelessly evil or else weak, corrupt and morally ugly.

In some ways, Dr. Priou argued, this was the situation that Plato’s Socrates faced in Athens, which had been transformed over the preceding generations and was undergoing a kind of tumult that fed utopian hopes for a just political order that were both intellectually interesting and dangerous. Then as now, Dr. Priou provocatively argued, Plato’s tour through the ideas, motives and passions of Socrates and his interlocutors can be of great assistance to students, intellectuals, activists and politicians as they think through how much can reasonably be expected from politics. Plato’s Republic, as Dr. Priou argued, shows why thinking about the just political order is both necessary and problematic.

Previous lecturers in the Jack Miller Center lecture series have included Dr. Paul Cantor, the Clifton Waller Barrett Professor of the English Department at the University of Virginia; Dr. Seth Jaffe, assistant professor of political science and international affairs at John Cabot University; Dr. Rita Koganzon, associate director of the Program on Constitutionalism and Democracy at the University of Virginia; Dr. Alexander Orwin, assistant professor of political theory at Louisiana State University; Dr. Ran Halévi, research director at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS); and Professor Tom Velk, former chair of the Program in North American Studies and professor of economics at McGill University.

The Jack Miller Center partners with faculty, administrators and donors to transform student access to education in American political thought and history, an education the Center believes is necessary for informed civic engagement. By receiving this grant, Yeshiva University joins a list of many distinguished academic institutions that have worked with the Jack Miller Center, including Columbia University, the University of Notre Dame and Yale University.

The Straus Center trains Yeshiva University students to be Modern Orthodox intellectual leaders who are well versed in both Torah and the Western canon. Through a combination of unique, interdisciplinary courses taught in collaboration with faculty from across YU, communal events, and publications, the Straus Center seeks to cultivate the intellectual, religious, and civic leaders of tomorrow.

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