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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Author Meets Critics: Political Evil by Alan Wolfe

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Alan Wolfe, Boston College
Martha Minow
, Harvard Law School
James Traub, New York Times Magazine
Moderated by Erik Owens, Boston College.

Date: Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Time: 6:00PM
Location: Higgins 300 • Map and Parking Information

Abstract: Acclaimed BC political scientist Alan Wolfe argues in his latest book, Political Evil: What It Is and How to Combat It (Knopf, September 2011), that in an age of partisan blame-assigning, therapeutic excuse-making, and theological question-dodging, we need to get serious about the problem of evil once again. While there will always be something incomprehensible about evil, we are very much capable of understanding and combating the use of evil means to obtain political ends. Wolfe’s new book is a provocative challenge to widely-held beliefs about genocide, intervention and the use of force to combat evil in the world. In this panel discussion he will address critical responses from distinguished thinkers Martha Minow (dean of Harvard Law School) and James Traub (international affairs journalist for the New York Times Magazine).   

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Alan Wolfe is the founding director of the Boisi Center and Professor of Political Science at Boston College. He is author of more than a dozen books, including, most recently, Political Evil: What It Is and How to Combat It (2011), The Future of Liberalism (2009), Does American Democracy Still Work? (2006), Return to Greatness (2005), The Transformation of American Religion: How We actually Practice our Faith (2003), Moral Freedom (2001) and One Nation After All (1999). Widely considered one of the nation's most prominent public intellectuals, he is a frequent contributor to the New York Times, Washington Post, The New Republic and The Atlantic, and has delivered lectures across the United States and Europe. 

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Martha Minow is the Dean and Jeremiah Smith, Jr. Professor at Harvard Law School where she has taught since 1981. An expert in human rights with a focus on members of racial and religious minorities and women, children, and persons with disabilities, her scholarship also has addressed private military contractors, management of mass torts, transitional justice, and law, culture, and social change. She has published over 150 articles and her books include In Brown’s Wake: Legacies of America’s Educational Landmark (2010) and Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History After Genocide and Mass Violence Politics and Law (1998). Her edited and co-edited books include Government by Contract (2009), Imagine Co-Existence: Restoring Humanity After Ethnic Conflict (2003).

Following nomination by President Obama and confirmation by the Senate, she serves as vice-chair of the board of the Legal Services Corporation. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Michigan and the Harvard Graduate School ofEducation, Minow received her law degree at Yale Law School before serving as a law clerk to Judge David Bazelon and Justice Thurgood Marshall. A member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, her awards include the Sacks-Freund Teaching Award at Harvard Law School; the Holocaust Center Award, the Radcliffe Graduate Society Medal and honorary doctorates in Education (Wheelock College) and law (University of Toronto).

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James Traub is an international affairs journalist for the New York Times Magazine, and a former writer for The New Yorker. After publishing a number of books and articles on domestic issues, he began to focus on foreign affairs in 1999. Traub has since traveled extensively through the Middle East and remote regions in Africa and has written on issues of peacekeeping, state-building, repression and democracy. He is the author of The Freedom Agenda, which explores the Bush Administration’s attempt to foster democracy in the Middle East, and The Best Intentions, a commentary on the complex relationship between the United States and the UN. Traub appears frequently on CNN’s “In the Arena” and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He is currently writing a biography of John Quincy Adams, tentatively titled Militant Spirit (expected 2014). Traub graduated magne cum laude from Harvard University. He has taught at NYU in Abu Dhabi and is a fellow at both the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect in New York City and the Center for International Protection in Kyrgyzstan.

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In the News

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In his recent Slate article, "Simply Evil," Christopher Hitchens writes that a decade after 9/11, "simply evil" remains the best description and most essential fact about al-Qaida." On Wednesday, Sept. 21, Alan Wolfe confronted critics of his new book on political evil.