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Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College Hosts Tenth Annual International Conference on Crises of Democracy, October 12–13

“Crises of Democracy: Thinking in Dark Times” Features Authors Teju Cole, Masha Gessen, and John Jeremiah Sullivan, as well as New York Review of Books Editor Ian Buruma, Wall Street Journal Columnist Walter Russell Mead, and others

Mark Primoff
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.— As Hungary, Russia, Turkey, and other countries across Europe flirt with authoritarian rule, and President Donald J. Trump channels the voices of the self-described disenfranchised in the United States, it appears that the great political achievement of the modern era—stable representative democracy—is everywhere under attack.
The Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College will host its tenth annual international conference from Thursday, October 12 to Friday, October 13 in Olin Hall, on Bard’s Annandale-on-Hudson campus. The two-day conference, Crises of Democracy: Thinking in Dark Times,” asks: is there a worldwide rebellion against liberal democracy?
Hannah Arendt knew that democracy is tenuous. In 1970 she wrote:
Representative government is in crisis today, partly because it has lost, in the course of time, all institutions that permitted the citizens’ actual participation, and partly because it is now gravely affected by the disease from which the party system suffers: bureaucratization and the two parties’ tendency to represent nobody except the party machines.
Arendt was continuously critical of representative models of democracy that rely upon experts in place of participation, which is why she rooted the crisis of democracy in the dissipation of public power.
As seen recently, this separation between citizens and government has only further weakened the principles of liberal, representative democracy. Today, the authority and power of experts is waning. The elected politicians that represent the traditional institutions of democracy are being replaced by outsiders. The rise of networks with access to infinite information means that the authority of any one source is diminished. Expertise of the press is challenged by online news and social media. In all realms, power has shifted toward the masses of individuals who identify as outsiders, and they are organizing themselves in energetic communities based on eccentric beliefs impervious to wider standards of common sense and truth.
The crisis facing democratic regimes today is cause for serious concern; it is also an opportunity for deep reflection on questions and assumptions concerning liberal representative democracy. Instead of assuming a defensive posture and taking up arms to defend the status quo, our conference asks: How can we take advantage of this crisis to make democracy stronger?
Crises of Democracy: Thinking in Dark Times,” convenes a diverse group of thinkers to explore questions such as: Are we experiencing a crisis of democracy? Are we witnessing the rise of authoritarian or fascist governments? Does rule by experts and bureaucrats threaten democracy? How does the centralization of power contribute to the crisis of democracy? Does identity politics threaten or enable pluralist government? Does the information explosion render obsolete the authority of democratic institutions? What motivates us to take part in democratic processes? Is representative democracy an inherently unstable model of government?
Featured speakers include: Ian Buruma, editor, New York Review of Books, and author, Murder in Amsterdam; Teju Cole, author, Open City, winner of 2012 PEN / Hemingway Foundation Award, and columnist, New York Times Magazine; Masha Gessen, author, The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, and contributor, New York Times; Walter Russell Mead, editor, Via Meadia blog at The American Interest, and columnist, Wall Street Journal; John Jeremiah Sullivan, author, Pulphead, and winner of the 2015 Windham–Campbell Literature Prize for nonfiction; Zephyr Teachout, 2016 Democratic candidate for Congress and author, Corruption in America; Micah White, cocreator, Occupy Wall Street, and author, The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution; Tania Bruguera, artist and founder of Hannah Arendt Institute for Artivism in Cuba; Libby Barringer, Klemens von Klemperer Postdoctoral Fellow, Arendt Center; Roger Berkowitz, associate professor, political studies and human rights, Bard College, and academic director, Arendt Center; Leon Botstein, president, Bard College; William Dixon, director, Language and Thinking Program and visiting assistant professor, Political Studies Program, Bard College; Galit Eilat, Keith Haring Fellow in Art and Activism, Bard College; James S. Fishkin, Janet M. Peck Chair in International Communication, and director, Center for Deliberative Democracy, Stanford University; Mary Finn, former Obama campaign organizer and currently manager at Democracy in Crisis, a syndicated column, podcast, and daily blog; Martin Gurri, president and chief analyst, Fifth Wave Analytics, former analyst and manager, DNI Open Source Center, and author, The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium; Samantha Rose Hill, assistant director, Arendt Center; Marc Jongen, lecturer in philosophy and aesthetics, Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design (Hochschule für Gestaltung); Thomas Keenan, associate professor of comparative literature, and director, Human Rights Program, Bard College; Seon-Wook Kim, professor, Department of Philosophy, and chair, Center for Ethics Value, Soongsil University, Seoul, South Korea, and president, Korean Society for Hannah Arendt Studies; Wyatt Mason, contributing writer, New York Times Magazine, contributing editor, Harper’s Magazine, and senior fellow, Arendt Center; Uday Mehta, author, The Anxiety of Freedom: Imagination and Individuality in the Political Thought of John Locke, and the forthcoming A Different Vision: Gandhi’s Critique of Political Rationality; Yascha Mounk, lecturer on government, Harvard University, and author, Stranger in My Own Country: A Jewish Family in Modern Germany; Melvin Rogers, associate professor, political science, Brown University; John Jeremiah Sullivan, contributing writer, New York Times Magazine, southern editor, The Paris Review, and author, Blood Horses and Pulphead; Brandon Soderberg, chief advisor and editor at large, Democracy in Crisis, and editor-in-chief, Baltimore City Paper; Ian Storey, associate fellow, Arendt Center, coeditor, Artifacts of Thinking: Reading Arendt’s “Denktagebuch”; Marina van Zuylen, professor, French and comparative literature, and director, French Studies Program, Bard College; Baynard Woods, founder, Democracy in Crisis, editor-at-large, Baltimore City Paper, and author, Coffin Point: The Strange Cases of Ed McTeer, Witchdoctor Sheriff; Linda Marie-Gelsomina Zerilli, Charles E. Merriam Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science and the College, faculty director, Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, University of Chicago, and author, Signifying Woman, Feminism and the Abyss of Freedom, and A Democratic Theory of Judgment.
Thursday, October 12
10:00 a.m. Welcome
                             Leon Botstein

10:15 a.m.  Crises of Democracy
                             Roger Berkowitz

10:45 a.m. Thinking under Siege
                             Masha Gessen
                             Moderator: Marina van Zuylen

11:50 a.m. Break
12:00 p.m. Is Protest Political?
                             Micah White
                             Zephyr Teachout
                             Moderator: Uday Mehta
1:00 p.m.  Lunch
1:15 p.m. Breakout Session: Democracy and Elections
                             Moderators: William Dixon and Zephyr Teachout
                             Location: Olin Auditorium
2:00 p.m.  The American Idea
                             John Jeremiah Sullivan
                             Moderator: Roger Berkowitz
2:45 p.m. The Revolt of the Public
                             Martin Gurri
                             Moderator: Linda Zerilli
3:30 p.m. Break
4:00 p.m. Is Liberal Democracy Our Future?
                             Melvin Rogers
                             Yascha Mounk
                             Moderator: Samantha Hill
5:30 p.m. Art Activism and Democratic Action
                             Tania Bruguera in conversation with Galit Eilat
                             Moderator: Thomas Keenan
6:30 p.m. Wine and cheese reception
6:30 p.m. Breakout Session
                             Moderators: Ian Storey
                             Location: Room 204, Olin
Friday, October 13
8:30 a.m. Breakout Session: Democracy in Crisis
                             Led by the founders of Democracy in Crisis:
                             Baynard Woods, Brandon Soderberg, and Mary Finn
                             Location: Room 202, Olin
9:30 a.m. Crises of Democracy
                             Uday Mehta
10:00 a.m. Does Democracy Need To Be More Populist?
                             Marc Jongen
                             Ian Buruma
                             Moderator: Roger Berkowitz 
11:15 a.m. New Imaginings of Democracy
                             James Fishkin
                             Moderator: Sarah Paden ’09
12:00 p.m. Lunch
12:15 p.m. Breakout Sessions: Civil Disobedience and Protest
                             Moderators: Libby Barringer and Seon-Wook Kim
                             Location: Olin, Room 204
                             Democracy and the Media
                             Moderators: Masha Gessen and Martin Gurri
                             Location: Olin, Room 202
1:30 p.m. Jacksonian and Arendtian Critiques of Liberal Democracy
                             Walter Russell Mead
                             Linda Zerilli
                             Moderator: Shany Mor
3:00 p.m. After Mediocrity
                             Teju Cole
                             Moderator: Wyatt Mason
4:15 p.m. Wine and cheese reception
Arendt Center conferences are attended by nearly a thousand people and reach an international audience via live webcast. Past speakers have included maverick inventor Ray Kurzweil, whistleblower Edward Snowden, irreverent journalist Christopher Hitchens, businessman Hunter Lewis, authors Zadie Smith and Claudia Rankine, New York Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus, and presidential candidate and political activist Ralph Nader. Previous conferences have explored the intellectual roots of the economic crisis, the future of humanity in an age increasingly dominated by technology that’s changing how humans live, the crisis in American education, and American exceptionalism.
For a full conference schedule and bios of featured speakers, please visit For more information or any questions about the conference, please contact or 845-758-7878.

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This event was last updated on 09-06-2017