Event Recap: Danielle Allen on Justice by Means of Democracy

Author: Center for Citizenship & Constitutional Government

On September 6, the Center for Citizenship & Constitutional Government hosted Harvard Professor Danielle Allen for a President’s Forum lecture on her new book, Justice by Means of Democracy. Dr. Allen is the James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University and Director of the Allen Lab for Democracy Renovation at Harvard Kennedy School's Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation.

Dr. Allen began her talk with an anecdote about her early family life, describing her father, who ran for one of California's seats in the United States Senate as a Republican, and her aunt, who ran for office as a progressive member of the Peace and Freedom party in the Bay Area of California. “They would just go at it hammer and tongs,” she exclaimed, describing the lively debate that took place within her family, “but they were actually pursuing the same thing, they were both pursuing empowerment.”

With this in mind, she explained that her father and aunt were able to debate often and vigorously over “how” to pursue this end while never breaking the bond of love between them. In recent years, however, Dr. Allen describes what she believes has been a change from that convivial culture as a “great pulling apart" of American Society. Within the context of this change and how she was personally impacted by it, Dr. Allen describes her book.

According to Dr. Allen, the change in American life over the past two decades is exemplified by the disconnect between what the “elite” of America have thought and what has been felt by the people on the ground. For instance, most of the elites of America in the world did not predict the Great Recession of 2008, the election of former President Donald Trump, or Brexit. Contrastingly, many people on the ground during these events were not stunned that they happened. Dr. Allen explains that this is the root of a huge problem: the profound disconnect between those who are making policies and those who are being affected by them.

She explained, “When people have power over others that power is corrupting…if you're going to protect the rights of all, if you're going to adhere to that principle, then you actually have to put power in the hands of all.” Through this point, Dr. Allen went to the crux of her argument: democracy leads to justice by putting power in the hands of all people. In doing so, it ensures that all people have a role in the eventual outcome.

In addition to delivering a public lecture, Dr. Allen met privately with Political Science graduate students and the CCCG’s undergraduate Menard Family Tocqueville Fellows. She also participated in an interdisciplinary discussion seminar with Notre Dame faculty.

Article contributed by CCCG Writing Fellow Luca Fanucchi.


Originally published by Center for Citizenship & Constitutional Government at constudies.nd.edu on September 25, 2023.