Dr. Frank Rohmer, Austin College associate professor of political science, will present a Sabbatical Series Lecture, “A Traveler in Time and Place: Montesquieu’s Liberal Arts Journey to a Science of Politics” on Wednesday, October 9, in Wright Campus Center, Room 231 at 5 p.m. A 4:30 p.m. reception in nearby Johnson Gallery precedes the lecture. Both events, free and open to the public, are presented by the College’s Johnson Center for Faculty Development and Excellence in Teaching.
Introducing his topic, Rohmer explained that in one of several references to the Roman poet Ovid, the 18th-century French philosophe Montesquieu begins his Spirit of the Laws with the claim that he has “begotten a child without a mother.”
“Montesquieu’s conscious attempt to construct a novel science of politics, while heavily influenced by the modern project of Machiavelli, Descartes, Bacon, Hobbes, and Locke to overthrow the obscurantism of scholastic learning, was his own unique contribution to the Enlightenment project of bringing scientific light into the darkness of religious and philosophic delusion that marked a turn away from the abstract, universalistic treatment of human beings presented by Hobbes and Locke as part of their natural right/social contract philosophy,” Rohmer explained.
Rohmer said that, though accepting the empiricism of Hobbes and Locke, Montesquieu saw in their treatment of human nature a failure to appreciate the manifold ways in which nature is refracted by the variety of customs formed in time and place. “To provide a truly enlightened approach to the understanding of human beings in nature, Montesquieu embarked on an historical journey to times long ago and places far away, employing the whole panoply of the liberal arts to provide a truly realistic view of political life,” Rohmer said. “The novelty of Montesquieu’s approach to politics would be seen not only in his historical and comparative method, but also in his combination of radical philosophic insights with an advocacy of moderate counsels suggesting the limits of politics and the danger of any recurrence to first principles. Thus Montesquieu became not the spiritual father of the French Revolution but the intellectual inspiration behind the conservative liberalism of Buke and Blackstone.”
Rohmer joined the Austin College faculty in 1993 and holds the John D. Moseley Chair in Government and Public Policy. He also serves as pre-law advisor to Austin College students.
The lecture is presented by Austin College’s Robert and Joyce Johnson Center for Faculty Development and Excellence in Teaching, directed by Randi Tanglen, associate professor of English. Within the mission of the center is the encouragement of “bold exploration of intellectual frontiers” and “fostering lively intellectual dialogue within and across academic disciplines.”
The Johnson Center schedules a number of events throughout the year, with presentations by Austin College faculty and guest lecturers.
Austin College, a private national liberal arts college located north of Dallas in Sherman, Texas, has earned a reputation for excellence in academic preparation, international study, pre-professional foundations, leadership development, committed faculty, and hands-on, adventurous learning opportunities. One of 40 schools profiled in Loren Pope’s influential book Colleges That Change Lives, Austin College boasts a welcoming community that embraces diversity and individuality, with more than 40 percent of students representing ethnic minorities. A residential student body of approximately 1,275 students and a faculty of more than 100 allow a 13:1 student-faculty ratio and personalized attention. The College is related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church (USA) and cultivates an inclusive atmosphere that supports students’ faith journeys regardless of religious tradition. Founded in 1849, the College is the oldest institution of higher education in Texas operating under original name and charter.