On Oct. 15, Hillsdale’s Mossey Library hosted Associate Professor of Politics Khalil Habib in its newest installment of the Our Faculty’s Ongoing Research lecture series.
Habib spoke on the theme of liberty and empire, and the differing views that three prolific political thinkers — Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Montesquieu — each had on these important themes. Habib is currently working on a book about the topic, which he hopes to publish within the next year.
“The simple question that this book raises and tries to answer is whether or not liberty, however you define it, requires empire, or whether or not empire destroys liberty,” Habib said.
Habib then briefly explained how the three different thinkers answered this question, using the Roman Empire as a basis for the discussion. In exploring how each thinker treats the subject of liberty and empire, Habib came to conclusions of his own.
“Empire has consequences, and those consequences historically have been quite bad,” Habib said. “It does lead to degeneracy, to luxury, to a loss of a sense of unity and purpose. If you think that security is bought by extending one’s sphere, you have to pay for it.”
Habib’s thorough examination of the topic of empire was inspired by his own personal experiences. He said he and his family immigrated from Lebanon to the United States when he was very young. The peace and prosperity enjoyed by Americans fascinated him, as it contrasted the constant conflict and civil unrest he witnessed in his native country. Since then, he has been captivated by the themes of tyranny, conflict, and liberty.
“I’ve never found a topic to write on that was motivated by pure academic interest,” Habib said. “I’ve always been driven to books or thinkers because of some political question that I genuinely have.”
Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship student Brian Friemuth ’20 attended the lecture and said he appreciated Habib’s insights.
“As someone who studies both politics and jiujitsu with Professor Habib, I think he’s one of the best instructors I’ve had at Hillsdale,” Friemuth said. “I find it fascinating how Habib’s personal experience with tyrannical regimes informs his understanding of politics and his reading of literature.”
Habib was invited to speak at the ongoing research series by Technical Services Librarian Aaron Kilgore. Mossey librarians take turns inviting different professors to speak, alternating between science, social sciences, and humanities each semester. Recently, the library hosted Associate Professor of Spanish Katia Sherman and Assistant Professor of Physics Timothy Dolch. A humanities professor will lecture next semester.
“We follow our faculty’s publications, whether books or articles, and get an idea of what new and interesting areas they’ve been exploring,” Kilgore said. “At that point, we try to ask faculty who haven’t spoken before if they would be interested in sharing the direction of their current research with campus.”
Kilgore said he invited Habib to speak because of his work covering writings and themes that Kilgore himself is also interested in.
“I’ve always enjoyed studying the unbroken connections of permanent things passed on through history, and it’s great to hear how other people engage with those lasting threads in the contexts of politics and culture,” Kilgore said. “Dr. Habib’s tracking of the relationship between republics and empires, and the possible implications thereof, asks some of those quintessential Hillsdale questions that inform important premises of human nature.”