Campus & Community

Michael Rosen joins FAS as professor of government

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Michael Rosen, a scholar of European political philosophy with a consummate command of continental political thought from the 18th century to the present, has been appointed professor of government in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, effective July 1.


Rosen, 53, comes to Harvard from Lincoln College at the University of Oxford, where he is a fellow and tutor in philosophy.

“Professor Rosen is a first-rate political theorist with an unusually broad view of continental political philosophy,” says William C. Kirby, Edith and Benjamin Geisinger Professor of History and dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “He has an exceptional standing in two distinct camps of political philosophy: analytic philosophy and the history of political thought. He skillfully and seamlessly invokes the tools of both traditions.”

Rosen’s first book, “Hegel’s Dialectic and Its Criticism” (Cambridge University Press, 1982), issues a bold and forceful challenge to Hegel’s assertion that only someone who has attained complete mastery of a system of thought can perceive and challenge its rationality. Rosen argues that this theory leaves no position from which one can rationally reject the claims of Hegel’s philosophy, calling it not an “algebra of revolution so much as alchemy.” The book also challenges an influential body of contemporary political philosophy that has sought to extract Hegel’s social and political theory from its narrow framework, saying such efforts provide “a source of incantations by which revolutionaries transmute defeats into victories.”

Rosen’s 1996 book, “On Voluntary Servitude: False Consciousness and the Theory of Ideology,” (Harvard University Press) is a reflection on the question of why the masses fail to rise up against oppression by the few. He argues that false consciousness – which in its political manifestation might lead an individual to believe that society is stable and self-maintaining, and thus unassailable – is the answer suggested by theories of ideology. Ideology, Rosen suggests, has a deeply nonrational appeal, insulating ideologues from unpleasant reality by giving the world an attractive veneer of intelligibility.

Author of four books, Rosen is currently editing the forthcoming “Oxford Handbook of Continental Philosophy.”

Rosen holds a B.A. in philosophy, awarded in 1974, and a D.Phil. awarded in 1980, both from Balliol College, Oxford. Prior to joining Lincoln College, he served as a lecturer in politics at Magdalen College, Oxford, from 1980 to 1981, an assistant professor of philosophy at Harvard from 1981 to 1982, a special fellow in politics at Merton College, Oxford, from 1982 to 1985, and a lecturer in philosophy at University College London from 1986 to 1990.