Public Action/Private Activities: Theorizing the Tensions of Democratic Leadership and Citizen Action


Friday, October 8, 2021, 10:00am to 3:30pm


Zoom webinar

group of people distributing food with blue filter over

How much can a democracy demand of its citizens? Is it ever permissible to force people to act to support the public good? Much contemporary discourse holds that participation is a matter of private choice. Yet serious attempts to deal with pressing public issues—from the COVID-19 pandemic, to racial injustice and policing—tend to hit a wall, in part thanks to a view of democracy that suggests that personal choice is paramount. The result is an uneven commitment to taking action for public benefit that disproportionately benefits some citizens and burdens others while encouraging the growth of the privatized state. This workshop brings together scholars who explore whether and to what extent ordinary citizens and their leaders can be compelled to act collectively as a basic condition of democracy. Is there a way of reconciling individual freedom with the idea that a duty to work with others is sometimes non-negotiable? 

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10:00-11:30 AM (EST)  Democratic Leadership: Challenges and Opportunities

“Democracy and Leadership: Lessons from Fourth Century Athens” 
Nicole Peisajovich, Columbia University 

“Democratic Leadership of the Subalterns”
Charles Battaglini, Columbia University

“Representation and the Sociological Substrate”
Nathaniel Hiatt, Yale University

Chaired by Hugo Drochon, University of Nottingham
With commentary from Eric Beerbohm, Harvard University

12:00-1:30 PM (EST)  Theorizing Democratic Action Beyond the Resistance Tradition

“Democratic Erosion, Resistance, and Legitimacy” 
James Wilson, University of Chicago

“Enforcing Reciprocity and Responsibility” 
Brookes Colyton Brown, Clemson University

“Conscription as a Form of Democratic Action” 
Sean Gray, Harvard University

Chaired by Archon Fung, Harvard University
With commentary from Lisa Gilson, Bates College and Emilee Chapman, Stanford University

2:00-3:30 PM (EST)  Author Meets Critics: Chiara Cordelli’s “The Privatized State”
Chaired by Julie Rose, Dartmouth College

With commentary from Eric Beerbohm, Harvard University, Katrina Forrester, Harvard University, Emma Saunders-Hastings, The Ohio State University, and Anna Stilz, Princeton University.

Reply by Chiara Cordelli, University of Chicago