Nancy Rosenblum’s Items contribution is based on her response to Charles Taylor’s October Roosevelt House lecture, "Ways Democracy Can Slip Away," and also appears in The Democracy Papers. A member of the Anxieties of Democracy program’s Advisory Committee, Rosenblum reflects on Taylor’s arguments through the lenses of history and political philosophy. She ends on a note of contingent hope, emphasizing that democracy’s contemporary vulnerabilities are related to genuine advances in the quality of democracy over time.
Relevant to our new essays on democracy, we republish Adam Przeworski’s 1997 essay from the Items archive, which is based on a talk he gave at the SSRC in 1996. While focused more on the state of social scientific understanding of transitions to democracy at that moment, much of what he writes is relevant to issues raised by Charles Taylor and Nancy Rosenblum, not least the tendencies toward disenchantment with democratic institutions and the limits of what they can achieve.
Based on a recent talk given to our Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa fellows at a July workshop in Nairobi, Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o provides a wide-ranging and personal reflection on the importance of conducting basic research in East Africa under daunting circumstances. Anyang’ Nyong’o, both a leading African social scientist and a current member of the Kenyan Parliament, makes the case for scholarly independence at a time when demands for relevance can impede critical analysis.
The current focus on inequality, argues Danielle Allen, makes it more imperative than ever to better understand the concept of “equality.” Allen’s essay focuses especially on political equality, which requires attention in its own right and in relation to other dimensions of (in)equality. Through a critical engagement with John Rawls’s work, she argues that public autonomy (“positive liberties”) is central to imagining and realizing political equality.
In the latest contribution to our “What is Inequality?” series, Suresh Naidu argues that the recent focus on income redistribution as a remedy for inequality can distract from more fundamental limitations to the liberty of workers as economic actors. Naidu explores the nature of the labor contract in capitalist economies and other constraints on “economic democracy,” and suggests reforms that would make unions more effective in addressing these constraints.