Monthly Archives: May 2003

young elected leaders

At the Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University, I spent the

day with a large group of young elected officials: city councilors

and state legislators from all over the USA who are under the age of 35.

(A few young U.S. Representatives were due to appear after I left.) The

morning session was essentially a set of focus groups, one of which I

was fortunate to be able to observe. I was especially struck by the degree

of guilt that these young people feel. They are torn among family, paying

jobs, civic obligations such as nonprofit boards, constituent service,

and legislative work. "Guilt" was a word that they used frequently

and passionately.

the arts in our community

Today the Democracy Collaborative

convened scholars at the University of Maryland and community activists

from Prince George’s County to talk about working together. I participated

in a session on the arts, which generated numerous concrete, practical

ideas connected to the Prince George’s

Information Commons. There are ideas afoot in the County to develop

it as an arts center with a strong African American aspect, profiting

from the University’s presence. The people who met today may be able to

help by collecting information about existing arts assets and displaying

them either on maps or public databases (or in other ways). I also think

it would be useful to survey existing arts groups about their partnerships

and collaborations, in order to construct a diagram of the arts network

in the County. (Network mapping software can do this very nicely.)

deliberation in Argentina

I have just spent a very interesting two days at a conference sponsored

by the Institute for Philosophy

& Public Policy and the Fundacion Nueva Generacion Argentina on

the subject of "Deliberative Democracy: Principles and Cases."

Essentially, the conference brought together four groups of experts

into fruitful dialogue:

  1. The Fundacion sent Argentines who are deeply embroiled in their country’s

    convulsive political crisis.

  2. Innovative grantmakers and aid experts talked about new approaches

    to development assistance that help democracy (or good governance) and

    civil society.

  3. Practitioners who organize human-scale deliberative experiments (e.g.,

    Carolyn Lukensmeyer of America

    Speaks) talked about their work. Also, Gianpaolo Baiocchi contributed

    ethnographic research on participatory budgeting in Porto Allegre (which

    is turning into the Mecca for progessive and populist reformers); and

    Andrew Selee described participatory and deliberative experiments in


  4. Several American theorists and social scientists gave papers on deliberative

    democracy. Jane Mansbridge argued for the significance of practice for

    deliberative theory, drawing some theoretical conclusions about the

    importance of self-interest and passion. Henry Richardson talked about

    the corrupting effects of being powerless, and the discipline that comes

    from having to make practical decisions together. Noelle McAfee distinguished

    three types of deliberative democracy. And Joel Siegel provided evidence

    that democracy contributes to economic growth in developing countries.

public work and multiculturalism

Here is a somewhat different way of analyzing the campus battles over

"great books" versus "multiculturalism" or "diversity."

Participants can be sorted into groups depending on what kind of works

they think should be available or required in schools, colleges, and other

venues. "Canonical classicists" want everyone to read great

works from Plato to NATO. "Diversity proponents" want everyone

to be exposed to works written (or composed, or painted) by people

of multiple ethnic, cultural, religious, sexual, and racial identities—in

order to promote empathy, respect, tolerance, etc. And true "multiculturalists"

want people of different cultural backgrounds to be able to study intensively

works created by people like them, so that a campus will be home to multiple

cultural communities.

This is one dimension that we can use to categorize the antagonists in

the campus culture wars. But there is also another dimension. At one end

of this second spectrum are those who emphasize that students should experience,

appreciate, understand, or at least be exposed to works created in the

past or in other places. Somewhat contentiously, I’ll call this the "consumerist"

approach. At the opposite end of the spectrum are those who stress that

we should create new cultural products, including stories and paintings,

performances, critical interpretations, and historical narratives.

Putting the two dimensions together, we see that there are at least six

possible positions in the debate:

canonical classicism

The standard conservative view is (a)—there is a fixed supply of

great works from the past that students should experience and appreciate.

The standard diversity view is (b)—everyone should experience works

by authors of color. And the standard multiculturalism view is (c)—people

should be encouraged to study works by members of their own groups, using

their own cultures’ criteria of excellence. These positions are "zero-sum":

adding a text to the curriculum may require taking another text out. In

contrast, options (d)-(f) are potentially "win-win," and I think

they are underdeveloped. There is a fair amount of (e)—i.e., people

of all colors and creeds should collaborate because this will create the

most interesting new works of art. But I think conservatives should work

on developing (d), if indeed it is a viable position. And multiculturalists

should develop (f), which would amount to the view that people of various

cultures should be assisted in producing new works, thereby contributing

to the global commons.

Brian Barry on inequality


Barry spoke at Maryland on Friday, making a good old-fashioned case

for economic equality. He cited the following statistics as evidence that

we do not have much social mobility in the US: If you are a male

born in the poorest tenth of the population, you have only a 1.3 percent

chance of reaching the top ten percent during your lifetime, and just

a 3.7 percent chance of becoming at all wealthy (in the top fifth). If

you are born in the bottom tenth, the odds are more than even that you

will never make it out of the bottom fifth. Barry’s source is Samuel Bowles

and Herbert Gintis, "The Inheritance of Inequality," Journal

of Economic Perspectives 16 (2002) 3 – 30, p. 3.