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Scholars discuss democracy, liberalism, progress in America

Courtesy of the author

A month after the hearings for then-nominee to the Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh, scholars discussed implications and the future of democracy. 

On Monday, Nov. 26, members of the International Panel on Social Progress held a panel on their recent report, “Rethinking Society for the 21st Century: Report of the International Panel on Social Progress.” The event’s panel comprised social science professors who discussed issues including inequality, development, and religion through a lens of challenges and improvements to modern democracy.


The panel included John Bowen of Washington University in St. Louis, Leslye Obiora of the University of Arizona, and University professors Philip Pettit, Marc Fleurbaey, and Eldar Shafir. The event was moderated by visiting journalism lecture and NPR international correspondent Deborah Amos.

During the discussion, Fleurbaey spoke about the importance of social media as a public good that can advance democracy. He explained that it should be monitored by civic organizations, watchdogs, and democratic in order to “guarantee its independence both from business interests and also from government intrusion.”

Pettit discussed challenges to the American belief in democracy presented by the controversy of the recent Supreme Court appointment of Kavanaugh.

“The politicization of this process has served to undermine, I think, the belief in the independence of the judiciary,” Pettit explained. “These are all such egregious examples of the violation of traditional norms and patterns.”

Pettit also criticized the idea that there should be debate between liberalism and democracy which implies that the two concepts are “antithetical” to each other.

At the end of the talk, Obiora, who is of Nigerian origin, said, “As an outsider in the United States, what really I find most perplexing is that the country that goes to war to export democracy to other places hasn’t even figured out how to cultivate the fundamentals to really get the people to think about what democracy really means.”


Obiora also presented the need for shift of focus from financial resources to socio-cultural resources in understanding the true potential for development in Africa. Obiora believes that this shift will “allow African agency to become more than just a figment of our imagination.”

Bruno Maguida ’21, who attended the lecture, found the panelists’ research and proposals to be an interesting and beneficial foundation.

“There is definitely not a one-size-fits-all solution to the problems we have in society,” Maguida said, “but I think it looks like a really interesting starting point to have like 10 or 15 social scientists agreeing on what they think are the interesting points to look at when you think about allocation policy or democracy.”

The lecture was held at 4:30 p.m. in Robertson Hall and was co-sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson School and the University Center for Human Values.

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