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Kluge Center Co-Sponsors Examination of American Institutions with Pillars of Democracy Series

For decades America’s civic and governmental institutions have lost the trust of the people, and sometimes even come under direct attack. Commentators offer various explanations for what has happened. Many point to a loss of faith in authority figures beginning with the Vietnam War and the corruption of Watergate. A movement in the 1960s and ‘70s, stemming in part from the anti-war movement, sought to challenge authority figures of all stripes. Whatever the reason, the fact is that 50 years ago the public had more faith in institutions as varied as the press, universities, religious organizations, and the government. And those institutions played a bigger role in our lives.

Institutions are the constants of our civic life, forming the basis of what we do as a people, even in a nation with a pervasive ethic of individualism – they may be especially crucial given that individualistic spirit. Institutions are meant to form us, inform us, and often to act on our behalf. Without trust these institutions struggle to serve their intended function effectively – whether it be to mold character, adjudicate disputes, educate and inform, or legislate.

That we are at a crisis point in American society is something commentators on the right and the left can agree on. Many have voiced the concern that constitutional self-rule is at risk as institutions fail to provide the latticework required to hold a diverse nation together.

To consider the urgent questions surrounding the breakdown of institutions, The Kluge Center at the Library of Congress, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Brookings Institution are proud to be co-hosting a ten-part series of events starting in July 2021: Pillars of Democracy: Institutions in Crisis.

The purpose of the Pillars of Democracy series is to explore the specific role of 10 institutions, where each falls short, and what to do about it.

We begin with governmental and political institutions including the branches of government as well as the US military, the one institution on the list that has largely maintained its prestige, then finish with those that play a critical role outside of government in civic life.

  1. The US Congress – July 8, 2021
  2. The Presidency – August 19, 2021
  3. The Federal Judiciary – September 30, 2021
  4. The Regulatory State – October 21, 2021
  5. Political Parties – November 18, 2021
  6. Electoral Institutions – January 20, 2022
  7. The Military – February 17, 2022
  8. Churches and Other Civic Institutions – March 17, 2022
  9. The Media – April 21, 2022
  10. Universities and the Academy May 19, 2022

For each topic, the Library, AEI, and Brookings will convene a diverse panel of leading thinkers for a live event – initially virtually, and before long in-person as circumstances allow. We look forward to seeing you at these events.

Our Common Purpose: The Complete Collection

In June 2020, the Kluge Center announced Danielle Allen as the winner of the Kluge Prize, launching the Our Common Purpose Campaign for Civic Strength at the Library of Congress. Allen hosted a series of exciting conversations at the Library to explore the nation’s civic life and ways that people from all political beliefs and […]

The Pillars of Democracy

The major institutions in American society are in a moment of crisis. From the branches of government to religious and civic organizations, the media, and political parties, these key foundations of American life are less respected, less trusted, and less involved in forming the character of individuals than at any point in our history. The […]

Visualizing “Our Common Purpose”

This is a guest post by Lee Ann Potter, Director of Professional Learning and Outreach Initiatives at  the Library of Congress Center for Learning, Literacy, & Engagement. “Our Common Purpose—A Campaign for Civic Strength at the Library of Congress,” a wealth of activities at the Library this spring. The theme, chosen by Danielle Allen, winner […]

Kissinger Chairs Reflect on the 20th Anniversary of the Chair’s Establishment

Introduction from the Director of the Kluge Center Around the turn of the century, then-Librarian of Congress James Billington secured a generous gift to endow the Henry A. Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations, concurrent with the opening of the Kluge Center. Many of Dr. Kissinger’s friends and colleagues, as well as foundations, […]