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Review of Autumn 2021 Faculty Panel, "Is Democracy Dead?"

Submitted by Natalie Mc Martinez on January 3, 2022 - 12:59pm
We the People Broken

Our fall faculty panel featured Professors Jamie Mayerfeld, Jack Turner, and Noga Rotem with Professor Michael McCann moderating.  More than 150 people attended this 90-minute live Zoom event, which can be viewed on the department’s Youtube page:

Professor McCann introduced the topic by discussing the historical development of democracy in the United States, emphasizing that privledged groups have always contested efforts to expand the voting franchise and political participation.

In “Who Destroyed the Climate? Would Democracy Have Saved Us? (Questions from the Future),” Professor Mayerfeld documented the threats posed by climate change before turning to the question of who is to blame for the US’s anemic response. Noting that humanity as a whole and our political and economic arrangements bear some of the blame, he singled out “extractive elites” for their sustained efforts to undermine collective climate action through disinformation campaigns.

In “The Discipline of Democratic Citizenship (and the Dilemmas it Creates)” Professor Turner considered what democracies require from citizens to function effectively. Citizens need to give thought to what a good society means to them. They need to recognize that disagreement is inevitable and be willing to engage in respectful deliberations with people who hold different viewpoints. Finally, citizens must never compromise on the basic preconditions of democracy (especially where basic rights and dignity of others are concerned). There is often tension among these three different duties, which means that democratic citizenship involves tough judgment calls and looks messy in practice.

In “Do Democracies Need Crowds? Reflections after January 6,” Professor Rotem drew on Political Theory research to consider crowds such as the mob that attacked the Capitol on January 6th, 2021. She began by considering whether charismatic leaders (such as Trump) are required (and to blame) for such events. She argued that people are attracted to crowds for their own reasons – in particular the experience of abandoning oneself to the crowd.  She also argued that crowds are an important means of expression in democracies.

There were a lot of audience questions. One question was what can we as citizens do? Mayerfeld urged people to become educated on climate topics and to use their knowledge to become involved. Turner recommended that people become politically networked in their communities (not just online) so that they are able to mobilize quickly and effectively on a range of issues. Rotem recommended more political activism, including participation in protests.  

The full talk is available at