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Events Archive - Democracy in the 21st Century Interdisciplinary Research Cluster

January - March 2021

8 March 2021 
5-7 pm - Zoom

Democracy and the Temptation of Caesarism
Speaker: Iain McDaniel (University of Sussex)
The ailments of liberal democracy and the agony of traditional party systems across Europe and in the United States have left many commentators struggling to find appropriate labels to characterize and interpret current political trends. While populism has never received a satisfactory definition and fascism is a term so loaded that many historians have been reticent to apply it even in the case of the dramatic ending of the Trump presidency, the concept of Caesarism has quietly gained currency. The seminar will be devoted to scrutinizing and discussing this revival: why might this 19th century idea be relevant today? Which aspects of the current crisis does it bring into focus? What is its relationship to the new forms of political participation outside traditional party systems? More importantly, how does it relate to the general evolution of governance in liberal democracies?

8 February 2021 
5-7 pm - Zoom

Liberal: the adjective that married Democracy
Speakers: Beáta Bakó (EUI - LAW), Daniel Banks (EUI - HEC), Conor Casey (EUI - LAW) and Andrés Vicent (EUI - HEC)
In 1997, Fareed Zakaria declared that illiberal Democracy was a growth industry. Since then, the phrase Zakaria coined has moved from academic punditry to become ubiquitous in popular discourse. An interesting implication of this semantic development is the strong tie between the noun democracy and the adjective liberal that exists in the public consciousness. Illiberalism is just non-liberalism . In fact, the marriage between these two words is so solid that they are usually considered one flesh. In May 2011, for example, the conservative Spanish politician Esperanza Aguirre reacted to the Indignados’ demonstrations demanding direct democracy by saying that when democracy is completed by an adjective – organic or popular or direct – in fact we are talking about dictatorship . Her statement neatly captured the assumption that the adjective liberal is not necessary as it is included in the concept of democracy. Such an assumption has a complicated history, but it remains just that, an assumption. At the same time, it has peculiar and profound constitutional consequences. In this session we explore possible ways to approach this question from our personal interests, expertise and background. First, we will reflect on a period when democracy and liberalism were regarded by thinkers as being in serious tension – the nineteenth century. We will recall the opinions that republicans and democrats had about liberalism as well as the bad reputation of democracy as a form of government among many political actors and thinkers. Second, we will talk about what liberal means in current democracies. Liberalism’ commitments to individual autonomy and restraining state power have come to orient and give concrete purpose to abstract constitutional principles like checks-and-balances, separation of powers and constitutional rights. We will examine constitutional theories which propose to buck the trend and decouple liberalism from constitutionalism, and how these would differ in their approach to checks-and-balances, separation of powers, the scope of state power and constitutional rights. Finally, we will present a short case study about a country which has been declared an "illiberal democracy" by its own Prime Minister. Although Hungary's Viktor Orbán recently prefers the adjective "Christian" instead of "illiberal" for his system, he has deliberately preserved all the trappings of liberal democracy, if not its content.

11 January 2021 
5-7 pm - Zoom


The State of Democracy in Georgia. A Conversation with Grigol Gegelia
Speaker: Grigol Gegelia (Lelo for Georgia)
EUI alumnus Grigol Gegelia, specialist in the history of political thought, is a founding member of the new pro-European Georgian political party ‘Lelo for Georgia’ and stood as a candidate in the recent parliamentary elections in Georgia. Those elected are currently refusing to take their seats in protest against what they see as the rigged election results. In this seminar he talks about the challenges of building up a nation-wide political party during the Covid crisis and campaigning in a challenging environment, as well as how he sees the future of democracy in Georgia.

September - December 2020

30 November 2020
5-7 pm - Zoom

Freedom of Speech
Discussants: Olga Byrska (EUI - HEC), Marius Ostrowski, (EUI - RSC) and Rouven Symank (EUI - SPS)
Freedom of speech and of the press is an essential element of democracy. The fight against censorship has been fundamental in past struggles against authoritarian régimes, and it still is in many parts of the world today. It is not, however, an unproblematic notion, as several ongoing debates show us. The justified worries about hate speech and ‘fake news’ have led to calls for regulation of social media and, in several (mainly anglophone) countries, the call for ‘safe spaces’ and the ‘no platforming’ campaign in many universities are arousing controversy. The recent events in France, with the atrocious beheading of a schoolteacher after his lesson focusing on the freedom of speech, and the reactions to it in defence of laïcité, have highlighted how different the debate can be in different countries. The aim of this seminar is to encourage a general discussion of these issues from various perspectives. There will be no invited speakers. Instead, a small collection of readings covering a relatively long historical period will be made available to participants in advance, to provide some fuel for the debate. The discussion will be kicked off by researchers from different departments.

9 November 2020
4.30-6.30 pm - Zoom

The 2020 Election and the Crisis of US Democracy
Speakers: Mario Del Pero (SciencesPo, Paris), Gary L. Gerstle (University of Cambridge), Federico Romero (EUI - HEC), Laura Stoker (University of California, Berkeley)
It is customary to exaggerate the importance of each upcoming US presidential election as crucial for the future of the country and for the world as a whole. Today we find ourselves in a situation in which such a characterisation seems quite accurate. Never has a presidential term been so damaging as the current one for the way Americans and the rest of the world perceive the quality of American democracy. A week after election day, we ask our speakers to explain how we ended up here and how to avoid this state of affairs in the future. What are the ways out of gridlock, and what is to be done next? We will touch upon the role of norms, institutions, and individual politicians, and how their interaction can become politically perilous. Finally, we will try to shed light on the motivations behind the popular vote and the election’s long-term impact on the geography of partisanship in the US.

19 October 2020
5-7 pm
Hybrid Event (Sala degli Stemmi and Zoom)

Democracy cluster internal meeting

12 October 2020
5-7 pm
Hybrid Event (Sala degli Stemmi and Zoom)

Covid-19 and the threat to democracy
Speakers: Kalypso Nicolaïdis (EUI and University of Oxford) and Adam Przeworski (New York University)
The pandemic has altered profoundly the way citizens and states interact. It has put into question not only daily aspects of life but also fundamental pillars of the democratic process, such as the conduct of elections. Essential to curb the diffusion of Covid-19, social distancing measures impede or even prohibit what until now seemed undisputed rights and liberties. How do democracies cope with these tradeoffs? What are the ingredients needed for the successful handling of the virus without deviating too far from well-founded democratic principles? In the inaugural seminar of the  Democracy in the 21st Century cluster, Adam Przeworski and Kalypso Nicolaidis will shed light on these questions as well as discuss the future of democracy after Covid.


23 September 2020
4-6 pm
Hybrid Event (Sala degli Stemmi and Zoom)


Introductory meeting with Max Weber Fellows

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