39th Social Research Conference – The New School


Loyalty & Betrayal: Their Role in Political Life | Oct. 3 – 4, 2019

In recognition of the 100th anniversary of The New School, which was founded by a group of professors who left Columbia University in protest over the imposition of loyalty oaths during World War I, and because of the continuing relevance and deep complexities underlying the concepts of loyalty and betrayal in our political lives, both historically and currently, we are convening a conference, the 39th Social Research conference on Loyalty and Betrayal that will take place in the fall of 2019 during The New School’s “Festival of New,” its week of centennial celebration. 

Loyalty to and betrayal of political leaders, political parties, and the state are worldwide phenomena. Their role in our twentieth-century history and in the present is all too evident and can be seen most vividly in the repeated imposition of loyalty oaths, first during World War I, and later during the McCarthy period. It can be seen today in the frequent demands made by President Trump on those around him to remain loyal to him even at the expense of protecting our laws and democratic values. It is also vividly clear in Russia today by the price put on disloyalty to Putin. 

Loyalty is not a simple virtue. The frequency with which divided loyalties occur is one reason that is so, for example, when upholding certain laws, like those pertaining to protecting the secrecy of certain government documents, conflicts with the recognition that what they contain endangers the country and that those dangers might be mitigated were they made public.  The contrast between the concepts of loyalty and betrayal is stark and while they are mutually exclusive, loyalty to one group or idea can, as in the case of divided loyalties, be at the cost of betrayal of some other value or group. Moreover, loyalty can become dangerous when it morphs into fanaticism. So unlike many other virtues, loyalty is paradoxical; a vice when it is pledged to a totalitarian regime, or supreme leader over the laws of the land or a virtue when pledged to the rule of duly enacted laws. The complexity of the concept of loyalty is reflected in a quote from the former distinguished New School for Social Research philosopher, Hannah Arendt, an astute commentator on totalitarian regimes, who writes that, “Total loyalty is possible only when fidelity is emptied of all concrete content, from which changes of mind might naturally arise.” 

The time is right for a conference which reflects on the concepts of loyalty and betrayal and how they have figured in history, how they have been depicted in the writings of philosophers, and how they are affecting (if not poisoning) contemporary political life.

This conference is partially supported by The New School Provost.

This conference is part of the “Festival of New” centennial celebration of The New School which was founded by a group of professors who left Columbia University in protest over the imposition of loyalty oaths during World War I.

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Full details here: https://www.centerforpublicscholarship.org/single-post/Loyalty-Betrayal