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Date and Location

November 10, 2020
4:30 PM - 6:00 PM ET


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​Abstract: The word ‘crisis’ has two different shades of meaning. It can refer to
an unstable situation in political or social affairs that persists and
intensifies over the relatively long term. Closer to the original Greek
meaning of krisis, a crisis also refers to a traumatic episode or
condition whose resolution remains unclear and replete with danger. The
crisis of democratic leadership is a crisis of the first sort — a slow
burn tending towards meltdown. The coronavirus pandemic is a crisis of
the second sort — a traumatic event spiralling into an uncertain and
perilous future. The crisis of the first sort is currently feeding into
and feeding off the crisis of the second sort. COVID-19 has had an
extraordinary effect on the political landscape. Its challenge to
democratic leadership and to the paradigm of representative democracy
more generally may be framed according to a number of key features.
First, the pandemic may be considered as a premonitory event. Secondly,
it poses various acute problems of collective action, both within and
beyond the polity. Thirdly, it highlights the dense interconnectedness
of the issues that form our political agenda. And fourthly, it suspends
many aspects of social and political life, both pausing our capacity to
act and interrupting the flow of the world we act upon. Each of these
features has double-edged implications for our capacity to steer our
democracies. Each threatens to reinforce democratic impotence, but at
the margins each also offers some hope of democratic renewal.

Speakers and Presenters

​Neil Walker, Regius Professor of Public Law and the Law of Nature and Nations, Edinburgh Law School
Panelists: Joyce Chaplin, Harvard; Ben Hurlbut, Arizona State; Doug Kysar, Yale
Moderator: Sheila Jasanoff, Harvard Kennedy School


Additional Organizers

​Harvard University Center for the Environment