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The Kluge Center: A Place for Conversations on the Future of Democracy

No one needs reminding that democracy in the US, Europe, and elsewhere is under stress. Led by Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden, the Kluge Center has hosted some of the greatest thinkers from the academy and leading practitioners in the political and policymaking world for conversations on the future of democracy. In fact, the goal of making Kluge a go-to place for those conversations informs the process for selecting Kluge Fellows and Chairs, as well as the winner of the Kluge Prize for Achievement in the Study of Humanity.

Over the last few years, as Kluge sharpened its focus on the theme of democracy, we have hosted numerous events, in-person and virtually, to highlight some of the major issues confronting us. In Kluge fashion, the idea is always to provide deeper context, whether it’s on issues of international politics, domestic affairs, or major innovations and ideas. Below is a survey of some of the events we have held – I hope you will take the time to follow the links and get better acquainted with what we do and the issues we’ve drawn attention to in front of thousands of viewers on-line and in-person.

AN INTERNATIONAL FOCUS

Kluge scholars have been at the forefront of the discussion on the impact of COVID on world affairs. Current Kissinger Chair Hal Brands recently co-edited a book with Frank Gavin on the post-COVID world order. Those two, along with Library Scholars Council member Margaret MacMillan, engaged in conversation on that topic in a November 2020 event. Brands also was part of a virtual conversation with US-China Chair Carla Freeman that touched on the impact of COVID on our relations with China. Earlier this year, former Kissinger Chair Constanze Stelzenmüller and international relations expert Andrew Weiss discussed how COVID has scrambled politics in Russia and Europe.

Before the pandemic, Kluge featured then-Kissinger Chair Ivan Krastev in an author salon on his recent book (co-authored with Stephen Holmes), The Light That Failed, an examination of why parts of Eastern and Central Europe have turned away from liberalism. Back in 2018, Anne Applebaum came to the Library for a Kluge event on the impact of disinformation orchestrated by Russia.

Last May, Library Scholars Council member Lisa Anderson hosted a panel discussion on US interests in the Middle East. It featured David Ignatius, Amaney Jamal, Gregory Gause, and Michael Barnett.

AMERICAN POLITICS

Back in 2018 Kluge hosted an insightful and prescient conversation on the future of the political parties, featuring Kluge Distinguished Visiting Scholar Jennifer Victor, as well as David Barker and Yuval Levin. More recently we looked at activism at the grass roots, focusing on a fascinating new study, Upending American Politics, co-edited by Library Scholars Council member Theda Skocpol and Caroline Tervo. Political polarization was the topic of a March 2019 conversation with David Barker and Liliana Mason.

Kluge was proud to co-host, with the US Capitol Historical Society, a series of events looking back at 100 years of women voting in the US, featuring leading scholars and practitioners on a range of topics, including the interlocking impacts of race and gender on American history. Historian Martha Jones and political scientist Christina Wohlbrecht gave keynote addresses.

The controversy surrounding whistleblowing prompted our January 2020 event, with former congressional staffer Emilia DiSanto providing the practitioner perspective, then-Maguire Chair Carl Elliott looking at ethical dilemmas, and current Maguire Chair Allison Stanger taking the historical perspective.

In February 2019 we took a deeper look at the African-American experience in the 19th Century. Both highlighted the extensive work they had done in the Library collections that relate to slavery.

This fall, as Congress, the president, and the Federal Reserve struggled with the economic recession caused by COVID, Kluge Chair in American Law and Governance Sarah Binder and former Maguire Chair Bruce Carruthers were joined by Sebastian Mallaby to talk about the role of the Fed and the economic impact of the pandemic.

IDEAS

In the final analysis, what we do at Kluge is bring some of the greatest thinkers to a broader audience. To that end we have featured Danielle Allen, the 2020 Kluge Prize winner, talking about the hard questions of American democracy and what the Declaration of Independence means for us today. In May this year, Yuval Levin discussed A Time to Build, his important book on the deterioration of institutions in American life.

Just this November, through the Library’s NBF Presents series, I had the opportunity to interview Anne Applebaum (The Twilight of Democracy) and Carlos Lozada (What Were We Thinking) on their recent books on the state of democracy in the US and Europe.

Jonathan Haidt came to Kluge in 2018 to discuss The Coddling of the American Mind, a book he co-authored with Greg Lukianoff.

Through the bipartisanship-oriented event series sponsored by the Inouye Foundation, Kluge hosted a conversation in 2019 between Karl Rove and David Axelrod, moderated by Anne Compton, on political leadership in a polarized age. In 2018 that series featured E.J. Dionne and Ross Douthat engaged with Compton on the American Dream.

Finally, Kluge’s association with NASA has enabled us to bring in scholars who are wrestling with questions on a galactic scale – where science is taking us and the search for life. Just this year NASA-Blumberg Chair Susan Schneider spoke on her book Artificial You, and more recently she moderated a conversation with leading thinkers on AI and the search for life in the universe.

We look forward to “seeing” you at our upcoming virtual events, including a 2021 series led by Danielle Allen, “Our Common Purpose,” that looks at what can be done to improve civics education and democratic practice, and truly seeing you when the Library resumes in-person events.

 

Watch: A Celebration of Earthrise

The Earth, blue and luminous, seems to rise above the moon’s surface against the vast blackness of space in the now-iconic photo “Earthrise.” Taken on December 24, 1968, aboard Apollo 8 — the first crewed spacecraft to orbit the moon — the image almost immediately captured the world’s imagination. Since then, it has been credited […]

Reflecting on Earthrise

Bruce Clarke is the Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology, as well as Paul Whitfield Horn Professor of Literature and Science at Texas Tech University. On April 23, Clarke will host a discussion titled Earthrise: Celebrating the Photograph that Changed (How We View) the World at 4pm in room LJ-119 at the […]

Life as it Could Be: A Conversation with Luis Campos

Fourth Astrobiology Chair Luis Campos began his tenure at the Kluge Center on October 3. A historian of science, his most recent book is “Radium and the Secret of Life” (University of Chicago Press, 2015). He will spend his fellowship year at the Kluge Center studying the history of synthetic biology and its overlap with astrobiology […]

Theories on the Origins of the Life: An Interview with Astrobiology Chair Nathaniel Comfort

In March, Astrobiology Chair Nathaniel Comfort interviewed four pioneering scientists about their roles in developing key models for the origins of life. The program titled “The Origins of the RNA World,” was part of Comfort’s year-long residency at the Kluge Center working on a book project about the genomic revolution’s impact on origins of life […]

Written at the Kluge Center: “The Impact of Discovering Life Beyond Earth”

In a new series, we profile books, articles and other publications written by scholars-in-residence at The John W. Kluge Center and researched using the Library of Congress collections. Jason Steinhauer begins with the newly published “The Impact of Discovering Life Beyond Earth,” edited by 2013-14 Astrobiology Chair Steven Dick. Extraterrestrial life has not been discovered, […]

Expanding the Astrobiology Conversation

This year’s Blumberg Dialogues on Astrobiology expanded the conversations around astrobiology to include philosophers, historians, religion scholars, literature scholars, communications scholars and professors of English and theater, in addition to scientists. The videos of these public dialogues are now available on our website and YouTube; the dialogues were part of the Kluge Center’s Baruch S. […]