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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.

 

Carl Elliott Answers Five Questions About COVID-19 and the Ethics of Medical Research

Carl Elliott is Professor in the Center for Bioethics and the Department of Pediatrics, and an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Philosophy and the School of Journalism and Mass Communications. He is the recipient of a 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship and a 2018 National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar Award. Elliott is the […]

A Thankless Task: Whistleblowing in Medical Research on Human Subjects

Carl Elliott is Professor in the Center for Bioethics and the Department of Pediatrics, and an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Philosophy and the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Minnesota, as well as most recent Kluge Center Cary and Ann Maguire Chair in Ethics and American History. Elliott […]

Will AI Become Conscious? A Conversation with Susan Schneider

Susan Schneider is associate professor of philosophy and the director of the A.I., Mind and Society Group at the University of Connecticut. She was a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the Kluge Center in the spring and will be back in residence as the Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology beginning in October 2019. She […]

What’s on Your Holiday Table? A Conversation About Health, Spirituality, Food, and Farming

I’m talking with three friends who think about, and work with, food, farming, and culture. Catherine Newell is a Larson Fellow who is studying how consumers use scientific concepts about food and diet to build a spiritual practice. Danille Christensen was a Kluge Fellow in 2016. As a folklorist, she investigates the social meanings of food practices and is writing about home […]