Lecture series to examine ‘The Difficulty of Democracy’

Is democracy in America at risk today? What are democracy’s prospects around the world?

These questions and more will be examined in a semesterlong series of lectures on “The Difficulty of Democracy: Challenges and Prospects,” hosted by the College of Art and Sciences’ Program on Ethics and Public Life (EPL). The series features six eminent social scientists and will take place in Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium, Goldwin Smith Hall, followed by a question-and-answer period.

The first lecture is at 3 p.m. Friday, Feb. 9; the other lectures will begin at 4:30 p.m. on Mondays. All lectures are free, and the public is welcome.

Paul Pierson from the University of California, Berkeley, begins the series Feb. 9 with a talk on the risk of “democratic backsliding” in the U.S. He will describe how political processes and events, economic and cultural changes, and institutional frameworks currently combine to threaten democracy in the U.S., and he will suggest ways of responding to this challenge.

“The series responds to widespread anxiety about the prospects of democracy, in the U.S. and around the world,” said Richard Miller, EPL director and the Wyn and William Y. Hutchinson Professor in Philosophy. “These concerns take many forms – anger that the American political process is rigged in favor of the rich, fear of attacks on the informed discourse and mutual respect that are essential to well-functioning democracy, and worry about the endurance of one-party regimes and turns toward authoritarianism. Addressing these concerns in very different ways, our six speakers will illuminate the forces shaping the fate of democracy and offer productive responses to them.”

Pierson is the John Gross Professor of Political Science at UC Berkeley. His writings on American politics and public policy include “American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper” and “Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class,” both co-authored with Jacob Hacker. His book “Dismantling the Welfare State?: Reagan, Thatcher and the Politics of Retrenchment” won the American Political Science Association’s 1995 prize for the best book on American national politics.

Nicholas Carnes, who teaches political science at Duke University, will speak Feb. 26 on class and governance in the U.S., describing the extent, causes and consequences of the underrepresentation of lower-income people in American government and prospects for change. His investigations of class and politics include “White-Collar Government: The Hidden Role of Class in Economic Policy,” “It’s Time to Bust the Myth: Most Trump Voters Were Not Working Class” (with Noam Lupu) and the forthcoming book “The Cash Ceiling: Why Only the Rich Run for Office – And What We Can Do About It.”

EPL, a program of the Sage School of Philosophy, promotes interdisciplinary learning about moral questions concerning public policies, and social, political and economic processes.

The lecture series receives support from the Riger-Potash Family Fund and is co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of Inequality.

“Difficulty of Democracy” lectures:

The first lecture is on a Friday, 3-4:30 p.m.; all other lectures are on Mondays, 4:30-6 p.m. in Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium, Goldwin Smith Hall, and are free and open to the public.

  • Feb. 9: Paul Pierson on the risk of “democratic backsliding” in the U.S.
  • Feb. 26: Nicholas Carnes on class and governance in the U.S.
  • March 12: Cheng Li, Brookings Institution, on the prospects for democracy in China.
  • March 26: Michael Dawson, University of Chicago, on African-American political identities and their role in political change.
  • April 16: Atul Kohli, Princeton University, on prospects and problems of democracy in India.
  • April 30: Arlie Hochschild, UC Berkeley, on the alienation from government of many white rural Americans.

Linda B. Glaser is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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Jeff Tyson