NEXT ANNUAL SYMPOSIUM 2019
Thursday April 11 and Friday April 12, 2019
Rising Authoritarianism: Can Democracy Meet the Challenge?
For more than two centuries, America has advocated for democratic principles starting with its Founding Fathers who proclaimed our nation to be created by and for the people, to joining with the liberal world to fight for our beliefs in two world wars. Following those wars, the United States was in the forefront of international efforts to create global institutions dedicated to peace, prosperity and justice. Our leaders have sometimes badly faltered or made poor decisions in seeking to preserve American leadership and universal values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. But we have for the most part tried to move forward towards such aspirational goals throughout our history. Other nations have not always agreed with our individual policies, but no one doubted the American example of strong democratic institutions, a robust civil society and a desire to build a world based on common values and interests.
Now, as a new era of international strongmen emerges, are America’s traditions and institutions capable of ensuring that democratic principles continue to push back on the tyranny that has threatened every generation? The symposium examines this moment with open eyes, asking tough questions about the global authoritarian threat, its underlying causes, and how it can be, and is being, countered.
When strong democratic institutions and civil society perform their essential functions, society enjoys a good faith debate about the best way to advance global and national interests. However, when rule of law is eroded, nationalism politicized, alliances strained, the press demonized and society fractured by rising hate crimes and attacks on electoral integrity, the norms that promote and preserve a resilient democratic society become frayed. International institutions based on shared democratic values can also be undermined and weakened when the U.S. government appears to question their continuing relevance.
Can the U.S. continue to be a leader that holds others to account when we ourselves falter in meeting these challenges? What causes the authoritarian impulse to break out of the democratic norm, and why do so many here and abroad find these demagogic appeals so attractive? Has a decline in American global leadership inadvertently given other nations permission to erode their own democratic institutions? Will a fractured and divided America be able, or willing, to work with other democracies holding others accountable when we fail to do so at home?
Focusing on Europe, Latin America and the US, the symposium will examine these questions in order to better understand not only the causes and symptoms that bring us to this moment, but just as importantly, to explore what can be done to meet these authoritarian challenges to democracy.
Annual Symposium 2018
April 9 – 10, 2018
American foreign policy since World War II has relied upon soft power – the ability to influence others based on key human values. Since World War II, the US goal has been to project its image as a nation that is not only strong, but also “good,” drawing on the idea of American Exceptionalism to persuade others that the country is the “shining city on the hill” and a democratic “beacon of freedom” in a troubled world.
Yet U.S. foreign policy has also been guided by national self-interest. This pursuit has at times conflicted with our aspirations and led to less than admirable policies implemented through counter-productive means that diminished America’s standing in the world.
Today a debate over fundamental values rages within the U.S. and abroad. The world’s view of America is no longer favorable. Forty-nine percent of the globe views the United States and President Trump’s “America First” slogan unfavorably. Yet Americans themselves are still admired by fifty-nine percent according to that same Pew “gold standard” poll of international opinion. Can we change this increasingly negative view of our country overall, or if not, will it spread to individual Americans? What can we do to regain the world’s trust?
Barack Obama’s 2008 election was a source of hope at home and overseas. While his administration fell short of expectations, the U.S. did regain and retain much of the international community’s respect. But in the past year, many question if the United States’ foreign policy is guided by its aspirational values.
Are there fundamental human values that all nations and cultures can agree upon or are they idiosyncratic? How are such values interpreted in U.N. documents and organizations of which the U.S. was an instrumental drafter?
Many American aspirational values are enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution. Do democracy, human rights, the rejection of tyranny, equality for all, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, constitutional government, freedom of the press and worship continue to call for respect domestically and internationally? How can we maintain a free media but deal with concerted efforts to undermine this bedrock of democracy? What about the value and importance of scientific inquiry, which has underpinned economic, health, national security, educational, social and technological foundations of the American success story since before the founding of the Republic?
Finally, can America still be influential on the international stage, or have we yielded that role to others through an “America First” form of isolationism that has diminished US stature with allies to the delight of our competitors and adversaries? What options do we have to navigate today’s unstable world?