video of this event.
On December 7, 2015, Jonathan Fanton introduced a panel discussion convened at
the Italian Academy at Columbia University about how representative democracies
can be strengthened to govern more fairly and effectively, in light of increasing
threats to national security.
This discussion, convened in partnership with the Social Science Research Council,
served as the 2029th Stated Meeting of the American Academy.
Good evening. I am Jonathan Fanton, President of the American Academy. It is my
pleasure to welcome you, and to call to order the 2029th Stated Meeting of the American
Academy of Arts and Sciences.
We are pleased to be here at Columbia University. This year we were proud to elect
five Columbia professors in our 2015 class: David Albert (Philosophy), George Lewis
(Music), Edward Mendelson (English and Comparative Literature), and from the Law
School, Jane Ginsburg and Philip Hamburger. That brings the total to 144 current
members from the Columbia University faculty and 374 since the Academy was founded
This is the Academy’s third Stated Meeting on the Columbia campus. Our first meeting
was in 1990 on the topic of “From Reform to Revolution in Eastern Europe and the
Soviet Union” and the second was held in 1994 on “The Many Unifications of Germany.”
We are pleased to continue our collaboration with Columbia today and look forward
to doing so again in the future.
As many of you know, the American Academy was founded during the American Revolution
by John Adams, James Bowdoin, John Hancock and other scholar- patriots to promote
a “strong and virtuous” nation through the “pursuit of useful knowledge.” Our founders
believed that the key to America’s long-term strength and survival was, in the words
of our charter, “to cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the
interest, honor, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people.”
The Academy has pursued the vision of our founders by convening leaders in academia,
business, government, philanthropy and more to address issues, current and abiding,
in search of sensible policies based on evidence, not ideology.
Throughout the Academy’s history, democracy and the study of democratic principles
and theory have remained constant themes. The Academy seal was designed in 1781
to “represent the state of a new country” where “the sun above the cloud represents,
not only our political state in 1780 when the Academy was first incorporated, but
also the rising state of America.” And the seal’s motto “Sub Libertate Florent”
conveys the belief that arts and sciences flourish best in free states.
The Academy’s seal and motto reflected the promise of independence, freedom, and
the principles of democracy in a new America.
The Academy’s founder and second President of the United States John Adams wrote
in 1780, “The science of government, it is my duty to study, more than all other
sciences. I must study politics and war [so] that our sons may have liberty to study
mathematics and philosophy.” Throughout our history, the Academy has examined the
“science of government” in its studies, projects and publications. Let me give you
a few recent examples.
In 1980, the Academy conducted a comparative study on religious and ethnic pluralism
in the United States and Great Britain, and in 1988, we convened a conference on
immigration policy and political institutions in the United States. In 2002, the
Academy published an issue of
Dædalus titled Restoring Trust in American Business,
on how to rebuild the trust upon which the American system of capitalism depends.
And in 2014, the Academy concluded its project,
Stewarding America, which tested the health of the institutions
critical to inspiring and modeling good citizenship. The project focused its analysis
on government, courts, media, military, corporations, and education systems and
its findings served as a basis for the
Dædalus issue, American Democracy & the
Tonight, we are pleased to continue to examine democratic institutions. The Social
Science Research Council, like the Academy, works on topics important to democracy
and representative governments. The SSRC’s “Anxieties of Democracy” program asks
how representative democracies can be strengthened to govern more fairly and effectively.
The program is motivated by a concern about whether the core institutions of established
democracies—elections, mass media, political parties, interest groups, social movements,
and, legislatures—can address complex problems in the public interest. Essays contributed
by participants of the “Anxieties of Democracy” program have been gathered in a
digital forum called The Democracy Papers, which I encourage you to visit
on the SSRC website.
The questions the Democracy Papers pose and the insights they offer helped
me think about the underlying causes of campus unrest we are seeing across the country,
from the University of Missouri and Claremont McKenna College to Yale and Princeton.
No doubt this generation of students is anxious about the state of our democracy.
Can it adapt to a fast-changing, complex world? Can it bring our society closer
to the founding values of our charter documents and advance a more just and peaceful
world with opportunity for all?
I close with an observation from Harvard physicist and Nobel Laureate Percy Williams
Bridgman who said, at our 1,374th Stated Meeting in April 1954:
It seems to me that from the long-range point of view it may turn out that the most
serious scar left by our encounters with Nazism and Communism will have been inflicted
by our defense of our democracy as a finished institution. We have forgotten to
regard it as a growing thing, evolving to meet our evolving conceptions of ourselves
and our place in nature.
I think his words will echo through our discussion this evening. Our democracy is
still a work in progress at home and we have much to learn about how democratic
principles can be useful to other countries and cultures.
The Academy is grateful to Ira Katznelson and his colleagues at the Social Science
Research Council for organizing our exploration this evening focused on the “Anxieties
of Democracy.” Ira and I made common cause at the New School in the 1980s, encouraging
scholars in East and Central Europe in their quest for a democratic opening. He
is a valued member of the American Academy’s Board and is the President of the Social
Science Research Council and the Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History
at Columbia University. He is the author of the recent book Fear Itself: The New
Deal and the Origins of Our Time. We are pleased he will be joined tonight
by Samuel Issacharoff, the Bonnie and Richard Reiss Professor of Constitutional
Law at New York University School of Law, who is the author of a recently published
book entitled Fragile Democracies.
At this point, Dr. Fanton turned the program over to Ira Katznelson and Samuel Issacharoff.
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