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Friday, October 4 • 10:30am - 1:00pm
Loyalty & Betrayal: Their Role in Political Life - Session II. Case Studies: United States

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A number of specific case studies in United States history are explored, a few of which highlight how loyalty to a cause can be a unifier. Loyalty to and betrayal of political leaders, political parties, and the state are not unique to the US but rather are worldwide phenomena. This session looks at international case studies in Russia, the European Union, and China. has the potential to transform into dangerous fanaticism.

Conference overview: 

Loyalty & Betrayal is the 39th Social Research conference and is part of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of The New School. It recognizes both the origins of The New School, which was founded by a small group of professors who left Columbia University in protest over the imposition of loyalty oaths during World War I, and the continuing relevance and deep complexities underlying the concepts of loyalty and betrayal in our political lives today. It takes place 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 20th and 21st century history 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 and the enactment of the McCarran Act. It can also be seen in the disgraceful internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and today in the US in the frequent demands made by President Trump on those around him to remain loyal to him even at the expense of protecting laws and democratic values. It is vividly clear in Russia by the price put on disloyalty to Putin and in many other places as well.

Loyalty is not a simple virtue. The frequency with which divided loyalties occur is one reason this 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 avoided were they made public. The contrast between 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 former distinguished The 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 that 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.

avatar for Robert Kuttner

Robert Kuttner

Co-Founder and Co-Editor, The American Prospect
Robert Kuttner is co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect and the Kirstein Chair at Brandeis University’s Heller School. Kuttner is author of 12 books on politics and economics, among which are the forthcoming The Stakes: 2020 and the Survival of American Democracy (2019... Read More →
avatar for Eric L. Muller

Eric L. Muller

Dan K. Moore Distinguished Professor of Law in Jurisprudence and Ethics, University of North Carolina School of Law
Eric L. Muller is the Dan K. Moore Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law. His books include Free to Die for their Country: The Story of the Japanese American Draft Resisters of World War II (2001), American Inquisition: The Hunt for Japanese American... Read More →
avatar for Ellen Schrecker

Ellen Schrecker

Professor of History (retired), Yeshiva University
Ellen Schrecker is Professor Emerita of American history at Yeshiva University. Among her books are No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and the Universities (1986), The Age of McCarthyism: A Brief History with Documents (1994), and Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America (1998). She has... Read More →
avatar for James Miller

James Miller

Professor of Liberal Studies and Special Advisor To Provost, The New School for Social Research
James Miller is professor of Politics and Liberal Studies at the New School for Social Research. He is the author most recently of Can Democracy Work? A Short History of a Radical Idea from Ancient Athens to Our World (2018); and also the editor of the new English translation of Diogenes... Read More →

Friday October 4, 2019 10:30am - 1:00pm EDT
Theresa Lang Community and Student Center - I202