Politics and Self-Knowledge in John Ford's The Searchers

Programs for Teachers
Newberry Teachers' Consortium
Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The United States is not a nation like many other nations; it is not the product of a commonly occupied territory over many centuries, and after the waves of immigration in the nineteenth century, it became a polyglot “unity” of many different ethnic “unities.” This raises for it the question of the nature of the psychological basis of the claims of citizenship. What does make the US a “nation”? One element is the role of myths about its foundings and expansion, and such heroizing myths play different roles in the American imaginary with regard to the original founding, the recovery (if there was one) from the Civil War and the Westward expansion and Indian wars. A great repository of such mythic self-understanding are classic Hollywood Westerns. One of the darkest and most disturbing Westerns is John Ford’s 1956 film, /The Searchers/, which explores the role of racism in the formation and sustaining of such a national identity. Seminar participants will explore in this seminar the treatment of racism in the film and the general issue of the role of “political psychology” in political life and its relevance to political philosophy.

Semianr led by Robert Pippin, University of Chicago

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