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The John M. Olin Center for Inquiry into the Theory and Practice of Democracy

About the John M. Olin Center for Inquiry into the Theory and Practice of Democracy

Founded in 1984 by Allan Bloom (d. 1992) and Nathan Tarcov, the John M. Olin Center for Inquiry into the Theory and Practice of Democracy provides a forum for the reconsideration and analysis of the fundamental principles and current practices of American politics and society, along with a thoughtful examination of classic philosophical, theological, and literary texts.

Learning that does not proceed from an engagement with the vital questions of our day runs the risk of becoming soulless pedantry; practice not informed by a reflection on the permanent questions runs the risk of becoming mere technique. The Olin Center brings together concerned theoreticians and reflective practitioners to consider the problems of a free society for their mutual benefit and for the education of students, faculty, and the community at large.

At the center of the Olin Center's activities are a lecture or  seminar series devoted to the consideration of a single theme over an academic year, and a conference, usually held in April or May, that provides for the intense discussion of a single topic over one weekend. This year's lecture and seminar series is on the theme of "The Formation of an American Democratic Culture." The Olin Center is sponsoring the conference  "Democracy and Popular Culture" (April 19-20) on the campus of the University of Chicago, and co-sponsoring, with the LeFrak Forum and the Symposium on Science, Reason and Modern Democracy of Michigan State University and with the Carl Friedrich von Siemens Stiftung, the conference "Living Issues in the Thought of Leo Strauss: Fifty Years After Natural Right and History" (June 17-20) to be held in Munich.

A major goal of the Olin Center is the development of scholars and practical men and women who will make a lasting contribution to the future of our society. The Olin Junior Fellows are mainly graduate students drawn from the Committee on Social Thought or the Department of Political Science chosen in the hope that their talents and tastes will lead them to a broad theoretical and practical involvement with public life.

The programs of the Olin Center are planned by its Director, Nathan Tarcov, in cooperation with the Associate Directors, Joseph Cropsey, Leon Kass, Ralph Lerner, Mark Lilla, and Robert Pippin, and other Senior Fellows of the center.

The Olin Center occasionally helps to support the visits of distinguished faculty to the Committee on Social Thought.

The Olin Center has been involved in several publication projects. The Olin Center's 1992-93 lecture series, “The Legacy of Rousseau,” resulted in a volume by the same name published by the University of Chicago Press, edited by Clifford Orwin and Nathan Tarcov. The 1996 conference, “The Meaning of Modern Revolutions,” will result in a book on that subject, edited by Nathan Tarcov, which is now being prepared for publication. Found among Allan Bloom's papers after his death was an unpublished manuscript on Rousseau's Emile, which the Olin Center is helping bring to press. The Olin Center also helped provide assistance in the production of Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind, Giants and Dwarfs, Confronting the Constitution, and Love and Friendship, and Harvey Mansfield's and Nathan Tarcov's translation of Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy. It also provided assistance in the preparation for publication of American Lives, edited by Amy Kass.  Most recently, the Olin Center provided production [and editorial] assistance for the publication by the University of Chicago Press of Plato’s Symposium (translation by Seth Benardete, commentaries by Seth Benardete and Allan Bloom).

At this time, the Olin Center is word-processing and helping prepare for publication transcripts of classes taught by Leo Strauss.  As a result of the Center’s efforts, one such transcript has appeared in book form (edited by Seth Benardete), and published by the University of Chicago Press, as Leo Strauss on Plato’s Symposium.

The Olin Center has been involved in significant archival projects. The staff of the Olin Center has worked to collect the uncollected correspondence of Leo Strauss. The Olin Center is managing the digital re-mastering of the tapes of classes taught by Leo Strauss.  The Center helped obtain funding from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation for the microfilming of the Strauss archives at the University of Chicago's Regenstein Library, and has worked on other projects in support of that archive. The staff of the Olin Center also catalogued Allan Bloom's papers, which have now been donated to Regenstein Library.

 The John M. Olin Foundation provides generous support for the activities, staffing, and administration of the Olin Center. The John M. Olin Foundation was established in 1953 by John Merrill Olin (1892-1982), inventor, industrialist, conservationist, and philanthropist. Mr. Olin was dedicated to the preservation of free institutions. Accordingly, the foundation seeks to promote a general understanding of these institutions by encouraging the thoughtful study of them.

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©1999, 2000 The John M. Olin Center for Inquiry into the Theory and Practice of Democracy, University of Chicago
Revised: January 2nd, 2000