When we were considering reviving the Democracy Seminar, I recalled my 18th century history and the Committees of Correspondence formed by the Americans to communicate and coordinate their opposition to British rule of the colonies. Given the emerging, worldwide, new forms of postmodern twenty first century tyranny, I, thus, came up with a compact description of our activities: “a world wide committee of democratic correspondence.” The idea was the result of my conviction that at this point “we’re all in the same boat,” as I later put it.
I contributed to the forum. I was struck by how the authors, ranging across the political spectrum, from the democratic left, right and center, were all critical of the authoritarian developments in Poland. They documented and analyzed liberal democratic failures, but also enacted a liberal democratic culture in their mutually respectful, complimentary, but also competing analyses. The book revealed a liberal democratic ethos in action.
Such comparative analyses with alternative political commitments and theoretical interpretations from across the globe, including participants from North and South America, East and West Europe, Asia, and Africa, constitute the Democracy Seminar. Edited versions of our many meetings, seminars, dialogues, and debates can be seen in our “watch and listen” section. We have worked to turn necessity into a new strength, making our meetings easily accessible, reaching a worldwide audience. You can now consider along with us:
It has become a truism: we live in dark times. The notion is not particularly meaningful if all that is meant is that things are bad: to play with the language of Orwell: that Modi, Bolsonaro, Kaczynski, Orban, Trump, et al, are “un-good.” But something more precise is at issue, I believe, drawing upon the insights of Hannah Arendt. The prospects of seeing each other, and coordinating and acting together, are dimmed. We can’t perceive each other and agree upon the facts on the ground. Societies are polarized politically, with a media constituted bifurcated public life. As is broadly recognized, we don’t simply have differences of opinion, perspectives, and interests, across political divides, we have different alternative facts and truths. And people who need to work together, who share commitments to democracy, decency, and social justice. Our worldwide committee of democratic correspondence is dedicated to illuminating this situation.
Jeffrey C. Goldfarb is the Michael E. Gellert Professor of Sociology at The New School for Social Research. This piece was originally published on our Substack.