We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Professor Robert Hariman

IAS Fellow & Pemberton Fellow at University College, Durham University (October - December 2008)

Professor Robert Hariman is a professor of rhetoric and public culture in the Department of Communication Studies at Northwestern University. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota and was a member of the faculty at Drake University prior to joining Northwestern in 2004. Currently he is serving as Chair of the department.

Professor Hariman's book publications include Political Style: The Artistry of Power (University of Chicago Press, 1995) and No Caption Needed: Iconic Photographs, Public Culture, and Liberal Democracy (University of Chicago Press, 2007), which is co-authored with John Louis Lucaites. He has edited volumes on Popular Trials: Rhetoric, Mass Media, and the Law (1990), Post-Realism: The Rhetorical Turn in International Relations (1996, co-edited with Francis A. Beer), and Prudence: Classical Virtue, Postmodern Practice (2003), with several more forthcoming.

Professor Hariman has published articles and book chapters in history, international relations, law, education, classics, and communication studies. His work has been recognized by article and book awards as well as election as a distinguished scholar by the National Communication Association. Two articles have been published in Chinese translation, and a French translation of Political Style will be published in 2009. He serves as a co-editor for the book series Studies in Rhetoric and Culture (Berghahn) and on the editorial boards of two other book series and a number of journals including the Quarterly Journal of Speech and Rhetoric and Public Affairs. He also is one of several co-editors of the forthcoming Norton Anthology of Rhetoric and Writing. He has lectured in Canada, the UK, Sweden, Germany, and throughout the US. He also maintains the blog, where he and co-author John Lucaites post daily on photojournalism and public culture.

Professor Hariman's scholarship focuses on the relationships between art and argument in political culture. Forthcoming essays include a co-authored large corpora study of political styles, a theoretical essay on parody and democracy, and several critical studies of photojournalism. During his time at the IAS, he will work on two elements of "being human": compassion and stupidity. The first will be considered as a form of power and mode of blindness, the second as a response to power and a way of seeing.

IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - Two Elements of ‘Being Human': Stupidity and Compassion

The American public seems to have become addicted to stupidity. Observers around the world stared in disbelief as George Bush was re-elected, and the 2008 electoral campaign set new records on the same track. When John McCain revived his campaign by selecting the inexperienced Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential candidate, and as the two of them rolled out a campaign based on vicious anti-intellectualism, eye-popping hypocrisy, and an ideology dangerously removed from reality, liberals were torn between despair and recommending that their own candidate "dumb down" his appeal.

Not surprisingly, a number of publications have appeared recently to account for American ignorance and gullibility, with electronic communication media often targeted as the primary cause of this decline in democratic capability. Such scapegoating may be another form of stupidity, as is any solution that depends on people turning off the TV and the computer, or on corporate self-regulation in the marketplace, or on candidates choosing between civility and losing an election. What, then, is to be done?

This lecture considers why stupidity has become a habitual mode of appeal and response in American politics, and why the contemporary critical discourse on stupidity often falls short as a program for reform. Political stupidity is distinguished from simple ignorance and the garden-variety fallibility of ordinary life. It is analyzed as a characteristic vice of modernity, and as a will to power uniquely suited to periods and ideologies of economic dislocation. The antidote, therefore, is not an infusion of expertise, but rather some version of the higher folly that subordinates rationality to compassion.


IAS Insights Paper


Ascriptions of stupidity have become common in US political discourse. I argue that the ascriptive practice reflects a democratic predicament of having to obtain solidarity with strangers through the use of speech. Stranger relationality generates both norms of rational argument and frequent breakdowns in intentionality. Thus, democracies have a structural tendency to produce antagonistic forms of populism and rationalism. Once polarized, enforced solidarity and critical reason become communicative habits that can each lead to bad judgments. This paper reviews representative ascriptions of stupidity as well as the discourse of anti-intellectualism, sets out my theoretical argument and analyzes a characteristic exchange on the Internet to suggest how habitual responses can be negotiated more effectively.

Insights Paper