Saturday, November 28, 2009

Olson on Extremism and Political Thought

The Governing American in a Global Era Program of the Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University of Virginia announces its latest colloquium, Extremism and American Political Thought, by Joel Olson, University of Northern Arizona, on Friday, December 4 at 12:30. It will be webcast live as well as archived as a podcast here. Here's the abstract:
This paper examines the use of the American jeremiad in the abolitionist and anti-abortion movements in the U.S. The American jeremiad is the lament, ubiquitous in political thought and culture in the U.S., that Americans are a chosen people who have failed to fulfill their calling, yet can still redeem themselves by returning to their moral and intellectual roots. Fanatics such as the abolitionist John Brown and anti-abortion activists Randall Terry, Paul Hill, and Scott Roeder embrace the structure and exceptionalism of the American jeremiad but, in contrast to political moderates, they insist on achieving the utopian ideals of the American jeremiad (unconditional emancipation, the outlawing of abortion) immediately rather than in the distant future. This leads them to reject political moderation and to embrace an extremist approach to politics.
Olson, an Associate Professor of Politics and International Affairs is the author of The Abolition of White Democracy (University of Minnesota Press, 2004). He is at work on American Zealot, a book on the role of fanaticism in the American political tradition.