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John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty reflects the ideals of Marquis de Lafayette

Members of the Class of 2011 will be among the first students to participate in the College’s celebration of the 250th anniversary of the Marquis de Lafayette’s birthday through the summer reading in preparation for New Student Orientation Aug. 23-26.

Lafayette is planning a yearlong celebration during 2007-08 in recognition of the life and legacy of the man for whom it is named. Major events will include a lecture series, entitled Lives of Liberty, featuring renowned speakers; a historical exhibit at the Williams Center for the Arts, entitled A Son and his Adoptive Father: The Marquis de Lafayette and George Washington, and a birthday party on Sept. 6.

  • A web site dedicated to the celebration and to the Marquis’ unique connection to the College provides information and updates.

The Class of 2011 summer reading assignment includes John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty and The Subjection of Women, which discusses the nature and limitations of power given to one human being to rule over the rest of society, and the companion book to the A Son and his Adoptive Father exhibit, co-edited by Diane Windham Shaw, special collections librarian and College archivist.

According to Joseph Shieber, assistant professor of philosophy, Mill, like Lafayette, was an outspoken advocate for liberty and human rights. Shieber compiled the student study guide for On Liberty and will also participate in student discussions on the book during orientation.

“Part of the inspiration for choosing Mill’s On Liberty for the 250th anniversary reading came from Mill’s eloquent eulogy published on the occasion of Lafayette’s death,” Shieber comments. “In it, Mill praises Lafayette as ‘the living representative of whatever was best and purest in the spirit, and truest in the traditions of his age.’ Mill writes that the magnitude of Lafayette’s influence was that:

‘of a heroic character: it was the influence of one who, in every situation, and throughout a long life, had done and suffered everything which opportunity had presented itself of doing and suffering for the right, and who was ready to repeat the same course of doing and suffering, or severer one, whenever called upon by duty.’”

During orientation, faculty and students will be involved in two discussions, one entitled “The Liberal Arts in the 21st Century” and the other focusing specifically on Mill’s work. Both will use Mill’s writing to explore the unique opportunities and implications of a liberal arts education.

“My hope is that the sessions will provide object lessons in liberal arts education,” explains Shieber. “In which the students will be led by some of our best teachers into a dialogue on the particular value of liberal arts and how liberal arts colleges exemplify laboratories for the sort of free expression and exchange of ideas extolled by Mill in Chapter two of On Liberty.”

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