From D.C. to Damascus: The Architecture of Modern-Day Authoritarianism - Virtual Event

Tuesday, October 20, 2020 - 7:00pm - 8:00pm
Event Presenter/Author: 
Lisa Wedeen and Tom Ginsburg

Why does authoritarianism persist? How does it become rooted in the social, political, and legal fabrics of a state as well as in the imagination, emotions, and memories of civil society—and how can we disrupt it and turn the tide? From the use (and possible abuse) of executive orders by the current U.S. administration to the Assad regime’s devastatingly effective disinformation campaigns in Syria, we are witnessing a worrying rise in authoritarianism both at home and abroad. 

Join us for the annual Robert H. Kirschner, MD, Human Rights Memorial Lecture. This deeply relevant conversation will center on the work of scholars Lisa Wedeen and Tom Ginsburg, whose writings and research seek to understand the challenges posed by authoritarian regimes around the world.

Presented by Pozen Family Center for Human Rights

Virtual event

REGISTER HERE

About Authoritarian Apprehensions: If the Arab uprisings initially heralded the end of tyrannies and a move toward liberal democratic governments, their defeat not only marked a reversal but was of a piece with emerging forms of authoritarianism worldwide. In Authoritarian Apprehensions, Lisa Wedeen draws on her decades-long engagement with Syria to offer an erudite and compassionate analysis of this extraordinary rush of events—the revolutionary exhilaration of the initial days of unrest and then the devastating violence that shattered hopes of any quick undoing of dictatorship. Developing a fresh, insightful, and theoretically imaginative approach to both authoritarianism and conflict, Wedeen asks, What led a sizable part of the citizenry to stick by the regime through one atrocity after another? What happens to political judgment in a context of pervasive misinformation? And what might the Syrian example suggest about how authoritarian leaders exploit digital media to create uncertainty, political impasses, and fractures among their citizens? Drawing on extensive fieldwork and a variety of Syrian artistic practices, Wedeen lays bare the ideological investments that sustain ambivalent attachments to established organizations of power and contribute to the ongoing challenge of pursuing political change. This masterful book is a testament to Wedeen’s deep engagement with some of the most troubling concerns of our political present and future.

About Lisa Wedeen: Lisa Wedeen is the Mary R. Morton Professor of Political Science and in the College, associate faculty in anthropology, and codirector of the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory at the University of Chicago. She is the author of Ambiguities of Domination and Peripheral Visions, both published by the University of Chicago Press.

About How to Save a Constitutional Democracy: Democracies are in danger. Around the world, a rising wave of populist leaders threatens to erode the core structures of democratic self-rule. In the United States, the tenure of Donald Trump has seemed decisive turning point for many. What kind of president intimidates jurors, calls the news media the “enemy of the American people,” and seeks foreign assistance investigating domestic political rivals? Whatever one thinks of President Trump, many think the Constitution will safeguard us from lasting damage. But is that assumption justified? How to Save a Constitutional Democracy mounts an urgent argument that we can no longer afford to be complacent. Drawing on a rich array of other countries’ experiences with democratic backsliding, Tom Ginsburg and Aziz Z. Huq show how constitutional rules can both hinder and hasten the decline of democratic institutions. The checks and balances of the federal government, a robust civil society and media, and individual rights—such as those enshrined in the First Amendment—often fail as bulwarks against democratic decline. The sobering reality for the United States, Ginsburg and Huq contend, is that the Constitution’s design makes democratic erosion more, not less, likely. Its structural rigidity has had unforeseen consequence—leaving the presidency weakly regulated and empowering the Supreme Court conjure up doctrines that ultimately facilitate rather than inhibit rights violations. Even the bright spots in the Constitution—the First Amendment, for example—may have perverse consequences in the hands of a deft communicator who can degrade the public sphere by wielding hateful language banned in many other democracies. We—and the rest of the world—can do better. The authors conclude by laying out practical steps for how laws and constitutional design can play a more positive role in managing the risk of democratic decline.

About Tom Ginsburg: Tom Ginsburg is the Leo Spitz Professor of International Law and professor of political science at the University of Chicago. He is the author or coauthor of several books, including Judicial Reputation, The Endurance of National Constitutions, and Judicial Review in New Democracies.

About the interlocutor: Kathleen Cavanaugh is a Senior Lecturer in the College and Executive Director of the Pozen Family Center for Human Rights.

 

Event Location: 
Virtual