Page-Barbour Lectures

The Page-Barbour Lecture Committee was delighted to present Samuel Moyn for our 2020 Page-Barbour Lecture series entitled “A History of Duties for an Age of Rights.”

Tuesday, February 11th: “The Modernization of Duties”

Wednesday, February 12th: “The Apex and Decline of an Idiom”

Thursday, February 13th: “Prospects for Revival”

In spite of the profusion of histories of rights, not a single history of the concept of duties has ever been written — even though it is much more prevalent across the annals of moral and political life in all traditions. Such a history, moreover, seems more necessary than ever, in a libertarian age. To help situate ourselves in relation to that present, these lectures will offer a history of the language of duties in Western and global thought and politics. The first lecture traces the prehistory, before turning to the attempted modernization of duties after the French Revolution, both in national politics and as a cosmopolitan idiom of potentially worldwide reform. The second lecture will grapple with the problem of when and why duties lost their centrality in the twentieth century. The final lecture will assess what plausible uses a revival of languages and practices oriented towards obligation could serve, as well as confront objections to the enterprise of their recovery.