Universiteit Leiden

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Lecture | Faculty Lecture

On the Origins of 'The Origins of Inequality'

Thursday 31 March 2022
Van Steenis
Einsteinweg 2
2333 CC Leiden
David Wengrow is co-author of the New York Times bestseller The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity

This Faculty Lecture will present an analysis of a contemporary myth - our Western myth of the roots of social inequality - based on an archaeological perspective, and also an analysis of the myth itself. As is well known, Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote his essay on the origins of social inequality in 1754 in response to a public essay contest on the topic. Why, in Ancien Régime France, was this question even being asked? Enlightenment ideals of freedom and equality cannot be understood except in the context of Indigenous critiques of European society—especially American ones—that were taken very seriously in many quarters in Europe itself. Ideals of “progress” were developed largely in response to that critique, and by synthesizing the two strands Rousseau essentially invented what we now call “the Left.”

Professor David Wengrow

About the speaker

David Wengrow is Professor of Comparative Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London (UCL) and has been a visiting professor at New York University, the University of Auckland, and the University of Freiburg. He is the author of What Makes Civilization? and co-author of the New York Times bestseller The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. Wengrow has conducted archaeological fieldwork in Africa and the Middle East, and has contributed op-eds to The Guardian, and The New York Times.

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