ChiDM Presents: Great Ideas
Thursday June 7th 2018, 6:00 pm7:00 pm

Designing Great Minds for Democracy: Mortimer J. Adler, Great Books, and Mid-century Citizenship, presented by Tim Lacy, PhD, Loyola University Chicago


Lacy’s research on Mortimer J. Adler’s work has focused on Adler’s intentions and the larger ideas in play in order to counter studies that absorbed the wildly negative view that great books projects, and the great books idea generally, always diminished high culture. The class analysis inherent those studies was that great books sets were mere decoration for middle-class homes and that adult, peer-led reading groups never grasped the subtleties of great books. Traditional intellectuals mocked great books promoters as mere salesman, peddling fancy books that played on adults dreams to shortcut the hard work of a liberal education. There is always some truth in these depictions, but much is also neglected.

Adler and his community of discourse desired that mid-twentieth-century great books readers would form discussion communities that used the best works as vehicles to discuss deeper, great ideas. The educational design of Adler’s projects focused on building citizens who would relish intellectual liberty while resisting authoritarianism, whether in the form of fascism or Stalinesque, party communism. Only citizens who understood equality and liberty could effectively practice it in society, voting for the common good and supporting effective institutions. There was a hope that these critical communities would seed a stronger democracy that resisted the anti-intellectual currents in voting populations in the U.S. and around the world.  For great books promoters, even a half-accomplished, seemingly commodified educational project used to buttress democratic culture was better than the alternative.


ChiDM Presents explores themes within our current exhibition—Great Ideas of Humanity: Out of the Container. This series is free and open to the public, and held at the Chicago Design Museum, at 108 N. State St., on the 3rd floor.


Save the date:

Pouya Ahmadi, Thursday, June 28, 6:00–7:00pm

Jonathan Mekinda and Maggie Taft, July 12, 6:00–7:00pm

Cushing, July 19, 6:00–7:30 pm

Lara Allison, Thursday, July 26, 6:00–7:00pm