Prof Who Would’ve Talked to Bannon, “Early Hitler” Speaking at Convocation

Professor Luigi Zingales, who sparked protests by inviting Bannon to campus, will deliver the 2019 Convocation speech.


Professor Luigi Zingales, who invited Steve Bannon to a debate on campus, ponders a student question at a town hall in Kent.

By Pete Grieve, Editor-in-Chief ('18–'19)

The professor who has tried for months to get Steve Bannon to speak at the University of Chicago will give this year’s Convocation speech. 

Booth School professor of entrepreneurship and finance Luigi Zingales told The Maroon in January that Bannon had accepted his invitation to speak at the University of Chicago, though almost a year later the event has not happened, and it’s unclear if it ever will—in October a spokesperson for Bannon told Crain's he intends to do the event “in the near future,” while Zingales said, “I’m not holding my breath.”

Campus activists held numerous protests and events when it appeared that Bannon was coming to campus. Zingales agreed to address questions and engage with critical students directly at a forum, where he shocked many students in responding to a question about whether he would have wanted to talk to Hitler.

“I think I would distinguish early Hitler from later Hitler. I think it would have been very useful to know ahead of time what he was about,” he said. “If the world had known earlier what Hitler was standing for, I think there would have been a better fate, no?"

Bannon is President Trump’s former chief strategist and a founding board member of right-wing media outlet Breitbart News. After leaving the White House in 2017, Bannon declared his intent to become “the infrastructure, globally, for the global populist movement,” and launched a speaking tour visiting right-wing populist leaders including French National Front leader Marine Le Pen and leaders of Germany’s far-right Alternative for Deutchland.

Zingales invited professor Cathy Cohen, an expert on U.S. Black politics, to debate Bannon. However, she declined the invitation, telling The Maroon: “I would never consider legitimizing such an event with my participation.” Booth professor Austan Goolsbee ultimately agreed to do the debate. In September, Goolsbee called Bannon a “snowflake” for not debating him.

Amid the controversy over the invitation, President Robert J. Zimmer did an interview with the Wall Street Journal, saying he was pleased that in his view most faculty members were not asking that Bannon be disinvited. Zimmer said the response on campus was, “‘How are we going to effectively argue with this guy?’, not ‘How are we going to prevent him from coming to campus?’”

The University’s Convocation ceremony always features a faculty speaker, with a prominent figure delivering a major speech the on Class Day the day before.

Zingales’ research has dealt with topics ranging from antitrust law and regulatory capture to surging right-wing populism.

He this year launched the podcast Capitalisn’t with Kate Waldock, an professor of finance at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, which bills itself as exploring “what is and isn’t working in capitalism today.” Recent episodes have explored the global threat of populist movements, including Brazil’s recent election of far-right-wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro and the ways in which rising inequality may erode democracy