The Center is launching a new season of our premiere series around the themes of leadership and civic engagement. We host world-class talks, debates, seminars, and conferences to inform citizens who seek to understand how other peoples and generations have confronted the challenges they have faced. Partnering with organizations at Grand Valley and around the state and nation, we create programs that equip leaders, and apprentice-leaders to tackle today’s challenges.

2014 – 2015 Speakers

Donald Markle:
The Fox and the Hound: The Birth of American Spying

9/15/14, 7 pm, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

Most books about espionage in the American Revolution tend to focus on General George Washington, but as noted historian Donald E. Markle explores in this fascinating account, there was an entire system of intelligence communication independent of his direction. General Washington and British General Charles Cornwallis were engaged in constant battle, but Cornwallis always seemed one step behind. As the war progressed, both sides slowly learned one another’s tactics, and in the hunt between the American fox (Washington) and the British hound (Cornwallis), there could only be one winner.

This event is in partnership with the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum, and Foundation.

Herb Meyer:
What in the World Is Going On? A Global Intelligence Briefing

10/7/14, 7 pm, L.V. Eberhard Center

Look beyond today’s headlines, and you will see a world that is more prosperous and more peaceful than most people are expecting. In this global overview, Herb Meyer – the Reagan Administration intelligence official who first predicted the Soviet Union’s collapse – will explain what really lies behind the current Middle East turmoil and why today so many countries are emerging from poverty and creating stable middle-class societies. Above all, he will outline the great challenges – and the great opportunities – that await students as they complete their education and head out into the world. In this return visit to Grand Rapids, Meyer will draw on his expertise to share insights into the world’s constantly changing geopolitical landscape.

Francis Fukuyama:
Political Order and Political Decay

11/21/13, 7 pm, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum 

Francis Fukuyama follows the story from the French Revolution to the so-called Arab Spring and the deep dysfunctions of contemporary American politics. He examines the effects of corruption on governance, and why some societies successfully rooted it out. He explores the different legacies of colonialism in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, and offers a clear-eyed account of why some regions have thrived and developed more quickly than others. And he boldly reckons with the future of democracy in the face of a rising global middle class and entrenched political paralysis in the West. A sweeping, masterful account of the struggle to create a well-functioning modern state, “Political Order and Political Decay” is an essential American conversation.

This event is in partnership with the Koeze Business Ethics Initiative.

H.W. Brands:
The Prez: Machiavelli Visits the White House

12/10/14, 7 PM, L.V. Eberhard Center

For centuries the name Machiavelli has been synonymous with amoral calculation in politics. No American president would ever want to be described as Machiavellian. Yet should the canny Florentine return to life and visit twenty-first century America, he would have some useful and surprising advice for America’s chief executive – advice that would say as much about America as about the country’s highest office.

This event is in partnership with the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum, and Foundation.

Alfred Mele:
Free: Why Science Hasn’t Disproved Free Will

1/22/15, 7 PM, Charles W. Loosemore Auditorium

Does free will exist? The question has fueled debate among philosophers, psychologists, and theologians. A popular argument among neuroscientists and social psychologists is that free will is illusory—that our words and actions arise not from rational choice, but from unconscious predispositions and social conditioning. But according to philosopher Alfred Mele, the case against free will actually leaves much room for doubt. In Free: Why Science Hasn’t Disproved Free Will, Mele examines the major experiments that free will deniers cite, and explains how they don’t provide the solid evidence for which they have been touted. Mele argues, instead, that conscious decisions play an important role in our lives, and knowledge about situational influences can allow people to respond to those influences rationally rather than with blind obedience. Mele’s clear-eyed exploration of the meaning and ramifications of free will, particularly on our moral and political decision-making, makes this an essential American Conversation.

This Hauenstein Center event is supported by the GVSU Department of Philosophy.

Ian Millhiser and Hans von Spakovsky:
Is Citizens United Good for American Democracy?

2/3/15, 7 PM, Charles W. Loosemore Auditorium

Does unlimited political spending help or hinder democracy? The landmark Supreme Court Case, Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, in which the United States Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional any government restrictions on political spending by nonprofit corporations, has deeply divided the nation. Some argue that the decision protects the First Amendment: anyone, including corporations, should be allowed to exercise their free speech rights through political spending. Others argue that the very spirit of the First Amendment—free speech for all, regardless of class and income—is undermined when corporations can spend exponentially more on political speech than the average citizen. Join us as two legal experts—Ian Millhiser from the Center for American Progress and Hans von Spakovsky from the Heritage Foundation—debate Citizens United and its implications on the role of money in politics and the nature of free speech in America.

Andrew Kaufman:
Give War and Peace a Chance

3/12/15, 7 PM, Charles W. Loosemore Auditorium

Considered by many critics the greatest novel ever written, Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace is also one of the most feared. And at 1,500 pages, it’s no wonder why. War and Peace is many things. It is a love story, a family saga, a war novel. But at its core it’s a novel about human beings attempting to create a meaningful life for themselves in a country torn apart by war, social change, political intrigue, and spiritual confusion. The novel is, above all, a mirror of all times, even ours.

In this American Conversations keynote, Andrew Kaufman will guide us through Give War and Peace A Chance, his companion to Tolstoy’s mammoth novel. Kaufman will take his audience on a journey through War and Peace that reframes their very understanding of what it means to live through troubled times and survive them. Touching on a broad range of topics, from courage to romance, parenting to death, Kaufman will demonstrate how Tolstoy’s wisdom can help us live fuller, more meaningful lives. The ideal companion to War and Peace, Kaufman’s lecture will be enjoyable to those who have never read a word of Tolstoy, making that masterpiece more approachable, relevant, and fun.

Cornel West and Robert P. George:
Creative Collaborations in the Academy

4/2/15, 7 PM, L.V. Eberhard Center

Cornel West and Robert P. George are both professors at Princeton. Beyond that, they seem to share little at all in common. West is a progressive race and political theorist; George is a conservative philosopher of Jurisprudence and Natural Law. An outsider would imagine these intellectual titans clashing spectacularly over the biggest issues—over politics, religion, and philosophy. Instead, George and West have developed a productive collaboration and friendship at Princeton. They teach classes together, dialogue together, and mentor students who report that the experience of seeing the two professors debate civilly has this effect: it reveals how two brilliant thinkers, each with immense goodwill, can examine a host of issues, disagree about well-nigh all of them, and still learn from and respect one another. Professors West and George, in their joint lecture, will talk about their productive friendship and its implications for the pursuit of common ground in politics and the academy.

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