Fellows Academic Program
Under its new theme "The Challenges of Democracy" the Center has orchestrated a series of eight seminars for its fellowship program. These seminars will be led by professors representing a wide array of disciplines across the campus (law, history, political science, philosophy and sociology). Each seminar, consisting of three sessions, will delve into a specific aspect of our research theme. Together, these seminars will lay a well-structured groundwork for understanding democracy, providing fellows with opportunities to enhance their expertise.
Democracy: Norms and Institutions
In the introductory sessions of the seminar, we will delve into the foundational pillars of democracy, namely rights and institutions. Legal regulations and principles, established by various tiers of government through constitutions, statutes, and decrees, play a vital role in safeguarding essential liberal-democratic norms and values. These legal standards serve to uphold democracy, both procedurally by defining the rules of engagement and substantively by protecting the political rights of citizens. Nevertheless, historical experience illustrates that constitutional rights and legal principles alone are inadequate for the sustenance of robust and enduring democracies.
Thriving democracies also rely on a diverse array of institutions, spanning both the private and public sectors, to advance and disseminate liberal-democratic norms and values. These institutions encompass financial markets, media outlets, educational systems, workplaces, civil society organizations, and various tiers of government (ranging from federal to local). These entities continually navigate between their specific needs and interests and their commitment to universal norms and values. Our exploration will adopt a multidisciplinary approach, enabling us to analyze both dimensions of democracy – rights and institutions – which are often studied in isolation, detached from one another.
The seminar will offer an introduction to the Federal Constitution, with an emphasis on the social, political, and cultural contexts that underlay the making of America’s founding document. By delving into a range of primary sources from that period and their modern interpretations, we will come to understand the Constitution and the institutions it created as an outcome of conflicts, compromises and power struggles among Americans in the late 18th century, and consider their implications for the current political realities of the United States.
Democracy: Philosophical Reflections
In this segment of the seminar, we will explore some of the philosophical debates, both ancient and modern, about the democratic idea. We will compare and contrast different models of democracy–participatory and representative. We will then examine the philosophical foundations of a third, currently popular idea, namely deliberative democracy. Finally, we will study some of the contemporary critiques of democracy.
Public Discontent with Western Democracy: Political and Structural Explanations
In recent years, many Western democracies have experienced growing citizen grievances against liberal democracy and increasing popular support for anti-liberal and populist parties. Many of these processes are driven by bottom-up forces such as citizen dissatisfaction with the current political system and a growing sense of economic and cultural threat. The seminar will explore some of the key structural explanations for these trends in citizen attitudes and voting behavior. We will focus particularly on the role of globalization, domestic economic changes, immigration and ethnic diversity, and the adjustments (or lack thereof) by mainstream and populist political parties. The discussion will revolve mostly around comparative empirical research of these questions.
Democracy and Solidarity: The Case of the Welfare State
This seminar will examine the relationship between democratic institutions and social solidarity, as seen through the lens of the welfare state. The initial rise of spending on public goods and social transfers in the late-19th and 20th centuries was correlated with the spread of the democratic franchise, and universalistic welfare policy is often seen to reflect the preferences of broad coalitions of voters. Recently, however, economic and technological change, population migration, and the rise of populism have called into question whether democracies can sustain generous and inclusive welfare states. This course will begin by considering solidarity as a concept, including its philosophical origins and characteristics, before turning to its expression in social policy and the challenges of sustaining it in contemporary democracies.
In an era marked by concerns about democratic decline, local democracy emerges as a crucial safeguard. As national and federal governments face challenges in maintaining the integrity and inclusivity of their democratic processes, local governments become essential arenas for citizens to actively participate and hold their leaders accountable. It offers a tangible and accessible platform for individuals and communities to engage in the decision-making processes that affect their daily lives. Moreover, local democracy provides a laboratory for experimentation and innovation in governance, allowing communities to tailor policies to their specific needs and experiment with new approaches to societal, technological, economic and other challenges. In this way, local democracy not only strengthens the foundations of democratic values but also serves as a resilient and adaptive force in the face of broader democratic decline. However, local democracy also carries potential dangers. It can be susceptible to parochialism, where decisions serve narrow interests rather than the common good. Moreover, if not carefully managed, local democracy can result in fragmentation of the body politic, with competing local interests hindering coordinated regional development. Striking a balance between local autonomy and the broader interests of the state or nation is an ongoing challenge in the pursuit of effective and robust democracy.
Populism in America
We will explore the history of populism in the United States, a history that presents an ongoing challenge to liberal notions of ownership and the control of wealth; the rights and duties of individuals to each other as well as to the commonweal; the relationship of citizens to their nation; reigning definitions of justice and the moral good; and the currency of racism, jingoism, paranoia, antisemitism, and demagoguery in American political life.
Workplace and Democracy
The seminar will unpack an often-used expression of "workplace democracy" to indicate several competing trajectories. Two major strands refer to the work-place as an arena in which democratic institutions should be installed, and to work-place governance as an institutional arrangement that is conducive to the quality of state-level democracy. Within each of these strands there are competing claims and justifications. Moreover, both strands are under strain as labor markets no longer overlap the territory of the nation state, and technological change renders the notion of (work)-place porous. The seminar will move from the exposition of ideas to their translation into actual institutions, arguing that democratic theory is both a normative compass for private (labor) markets governance schemes, but also a heuristic that aids in exposing tradeoffs and challenges.