Sean Wilentz, a professor at Princeton University, spoke yesterday to an audience of mostly professors and members of the Stanford community.
The talk was the first of Wilentz’s two events in the 2011 Wesson Lecture Series, entitled “The Long and Tragical History of Post-Partisanship.” It was endowed by Robert G. Wesson and sponsored by the Center for Ethics and Society.
Wilentz explained that the pair of lectures is related to contemporary politics, “but is actually rooted in historical concerns.” He noted that he planned to focus on the first 100 years of American history before “speeding” to the present.
“The lectures are much more like road maps than they are like pieces of evaluation,” Wilentz said.
Wilentz discussed a divide between President Barack Obama’s post-partisanship rhetoric during his campaign and later Gallup polls showing Obama as the most divisive president in his first two years of office. He predicted that post-partisanship rhetoric would reappear in the 2012 presidential elections and might be used against Obama.
He then proceeded to examine the development of early political parties in America. Wilentz focused on George Washington’s 1796 farewell address, which he said provided the locus of anti-party thought. Wilentz believed the speech, which has been “commonly viewed as an Olympian statement,” was in fact “deeply political” in regards to the Adams-Jefferson race for President.
Wilentz emphasized that the ideas on partisanship throughout American history are not all the same, though there are “communal threads” running through them. Most notable among these threads is a “desire to see political conflict replaced by high-minded collaboration.”
Wilentz is a contributing editor to The New Republic and Newsweek and has written approximately 300 articles, reviews and op-ed pieces for publications such as The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The New York Review of Books. His major work to date, 2005’s “The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln,” received the Bancroft Prize and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
“It was an interesting talk on areas of American history I knew little about,” said Kieran Oberman, a postdoctoral scholar in political science, who completed his Ph.D. at Oxford University.
The second lecture in the series is tonight from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in Building 360, room 105. A discussion seminar is set to take place on Friday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.