Master Class on Yves Simon's "Philosophy of Democratic Government"

Dec 7, 2019
Gavin House
1220 E 58th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
Back to Events

Russell HittingerLumen Christi Institute


Open to current students and faculty. Copies of Philosophy of Democratic Government (University of Notre Dame Press, 1993) will be provided for registrants.

The Charles R. Walgreen Foundation for the Study of American Institutions was established in June 1937 to foster greater appreciation of American life and values among University of Chicago students.  An important work of the Foundation was the Walgreen Lectures.  After the Second World War these lectures were published with a Foreward from the Foundation.

Twice during the first half of the twentieth-century, totalitarian systems have challenged the concept of democracy…. Democracy has been on the defensive; it has been defended more and more often with the pragmatic argument.  But this argument has proved no match for the competing systems.  Democracy, works, it is true – but so did fascism, until it was destroyed from the outside.  The need for a philosophy that show democracy to be grounded firmly on rational principles – this need is apparent.

Especially noteworthy is the fact that the need for philosophical reflection was met by four émigré scholars whose Walgreen lectures are still in print and widely read some seventy later.  In 1948 Yves Simon (Philosophy of Democratic Government); in 1949 Leo Strauss (Natural Right and History); in 1950 Jacques Maritain (Man and the State); in 1951 Eric Voegelin (New Science of Politics).  In a similar vein, Hannah Arendt would give the 1956 lectures (On the Human Condition).

This masterclass is made possible by a grant from the Our Sunday Visitor Institute.



9:30am Coffee & Pastries
10:00am Session I
11:25am Break
11:35am Session II
1:00pm End, lunch



Chap. 1.  We can focus on pages 19-71, which cover the functions of authority in any society that has a political common good.  For those who have read his two other books on authority, this material can be quickly read as a review of those themes, particularly his distinction between authority exercised to correct a deficiency in the governed and authority made necessary by a plenitude of the good.

Chap. 3.  We will read the entire chapter.  Here, Simon raises what he calls the “great difficulty”:  “it seems to be impossible to account for social life without assuming that man can bind the conscience of his neighbor; on the other hand, it is not easy to see how a man can ever enjoy such power.”  We need to discuss his understanding of three theories that account for the origin of legitimate command and obedience:  Coach-Driver, Designation, and Transmission.



Chap. 2.  Democratic Freedom.  We can pick up the conversation at pages 108-149.  Is democratic freedom, more or less the same thing as Liberalism?  Is democratic freedom,  more or less, the same thing as a regime of human rights?  (The 1948 U.N. Declaration of Human Rights was issued the year of his Walgreen lecture).

Chap. 4.  Democratic Equality.  I am eager to get our discussion into the final section, “Equality versus Exploitation” (pp. 230-259).

Russell Hittinger is Senior Fellow at the Lumen Christi Institute, visiting fellow in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago, and Professor Emeritus of Catholic Studies and Law at the University of Tulsa. He is also Ordinarius of the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas. Hittinger is the author of many books, including A Critique of the New Natural Law Theory, The First Grace: Rediscovering Natural Law in a Post-Christian Age, Thomas Aquinas and the Rule of Law, and most recently Paper Wars: Catholic Social Doctrine and the Modern State (forthcoming).