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Event Series

Seminar on Democracy: Past, Present, and Future


Democracies in Europe and around the world are under siege, and COVID-19 has exposed many to be dysfunctional. Even before the onset of the pandemic, from Hungary and Poland, to Western Europe and the United States, there has emerged a growing perception that democracy itself was suffering from a set of pre-existing chronic ailments. This seminar sets out to address the pressing issues facing democracies.


About this Seminar

In the last decade, demagogues have been on the rise. Once in power, elected leaders with authoritarian inclinations have often entrenched themselves in governments, while intense party polarization has left voters blind to autocrats’ abuses. Furthermore, as voters seem increasingly susceptible to misinformation, the rise of economic inequality has made democracy vulnerable to capture by powerful interest.

This seminar explores the past, present, and future of democracy – its institutions and norms – and some chronic dilemmas in the practice of democracy. It will convene important thinkers in Europe and North America to explore a range of issues including:

  • what makes democracies work;
  • what challenges they currently face;
  • what makes them vulnerable to the rise of demagogues;
  • what leads to democratic disappointment and disaffection?

It will also serve as a forum for discussion of work in progress and forthcoming books and papers contributing to debates on democracy. The seminar will explore what lessons can be learned from historical and contemporary cases of democratic breakthrough and backsliding, ranging from Weimar Germany’s spectacular collapse in the 1930s to post-communist Hungary and Poland.

The seminar is a collaborative effort with the following institutions:

Events Calendar

State of Democracy and Future Research Seminar on Democracy: Past, Present, and Future — State of Democracy and Future Research
November 19, 2020
12:00pm - 1:30pm
  • Sheri Berman – Professor of Political Science, Barnard College, Columbia University
  • Wolfgang Merkel – Professor Emeritus and Director of the Research unit on Democracy and Democratization, Berlin Social Science Center (WZB)
  • Yascha Mounk – Senior Fellow, SNF Agora Institute, Johns Hopkins University
  • Pippa Norris – Paul F. McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics & CES Faculty Associate, Harvard University
  • Chair Grzegorz Ekiert – Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Government & CES Director, Harvard University and Daniel Ziblatt – Eaton Professor of the Science of Government, CES Resident Faculty & Seminar Co-chair, Harvard University; Unit Director, Transformations of Democracy, Berlin Social Science Center (WZB)
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