Room 350, Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics (133 S. 36th Street)
Food provided / Free and open to the public
Raven Brown (New School Public and Urban Policy)
Inequality During the Era of Democracy: Institutional and Economic Conflicts in the Post-Apartheid State
Francis Russo (Penn History)
Rights vs. Duties: The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina
Peter Evans has argued that a central responsibility of the state, with regard to social and economic development, is that of arbiter of justice. In her paper, RAVEN BROWN argues that the inherent tension between the universal rights enshrined in South Africa’s constitution and its neoliberal macroeconomic policies prevents the state from carrying this responsibility to its citizens. South Africa’s persistent socio-structural inequality and high levels of unemployment has undermined the ability of the state to mete out justice, through inhibiting access to social and economic equity for the majority, as concentration of wealth and power is correlated with increased inequality. South Africa’s post-apartheid experience highlights the inability of neoliberalism and democracy to provide access to social and economic justice, which then prevents access to full citizenship. Because neoliberalism can be seen as antithetical to democracy, South Africa’s institutions have been unable to provide equal access of opportunity, manifesting in unmet political expectations, which serves to impair social buy-in, and thus, the stability of the state. The failure to reform institutions has thus led to the reproduction of apartheid era patterns of structural inequality, which has ultimately stymied equitable growth and eroded the promises of democracy.
In his paper, FRANCIS RUSSO explores what a history of duty in the United States might look like by exploring the ideas of famous abolitionists and feminists Sarah and Angelina Grimké. Active in the 1830s, the Grimkés defy a neat narrative of “rights-talk” as the normative political discourse in U.S. emancipatory movements. By putting duties at the center of their theology, feminism, and abolitionism and rights only as a lesser corollary, the Grimke sisters provide a window into a lost history of citizenship and political activism defined by duty, hard to see from the twenty-first century’s overwhelming emphasis on human rights. The paper will also briefly sketch the Grimke sisters in a larger history of duty in the United States and beyond. Edmund Burke’s reaction to the French Revolution seemed to sum up the traditionalist standpoint on “duty” at modern democracy’s outset: rights are well and good, but what about the duties upon which rights must rest? Thomas Paine issued a stern reply in The Rights of Man (1791). “A Declaration of Rights is, by reciprocity, a Declaration of Duties also. Whatever is my right as a man is also the right of another, and it becomes my duty to guarantee as well as to possess.” Yet as the Age of Revolution’s Christian and republican inheritance faded and new forms of industrialized capitalism transformed social and economic organization, the assertive and unfettered individualism born of rights-talk jettisoned the commands of duty as it rode heedlessly into its laissez-faire transmutations. But this transformation was never total. Some thinkers such as T.H. Breen, John Dewey, and others sought to save liberalism from its own perversions by reclaiming duties.