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Tanner Lectures on Human Values: For the People? Representative Government in America

Wednesday, October 19, 2022 @ 4:10 pm - 6:30 pm

|Recurring Event (See all)

An event every day that begins at 4:10 pm, repeating until Wednesday, October 19, 2022

About the Lectures

It has become a commonplace that democracy in the United States faces an existential threat. This belief has gained popular currency in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency, nourished by his conduct in office, the attempt to overturn the 2020 election, and continuing efforts to subvert the electoral process. Whether this is true only time will tell. But a common narrative among scholars of American government holds that representative democracy is failing more systematically than the Trump phenomenon suggests. Unprecedented levels of elite polarization, extreme partisan gerrymandering, weakened party institutions, easing of restrictions on campaign finance, and other forces—all in the context of rising levels of economic inequality—have produced dysfunction that subverts healthy political competition. A gridlocked Congress has not offered solutions to broadly recognized public problems. Legislation favors the interests of elites when they conflict with those of the majority. In this perspective, the Trump phenomenon concealed a deeper malfunction of political representation.

For those interested in the moral basis of representative democracy, the narrative of malfunction raises two questions. First, are the symptoms documented by political scientists really failures? What norms of democratic representation do they infringe? This is a problem of diagnosis. Second, approaching the subject more constructively, what would successful democratic representation look like? If we grant that democratic politics is unavoidably a form of regulated rivalry, what would it mean for its regulation to be fair and effective? This is a problem of prescription. The first lecture will address the problem of diagnosis. The second will explore the problem of prescription.

Political scientists, constitutional lawyers, and democratic theorists consider norms of democratic representation in literatures whose paths cross too seldom. They do not agree about the meaning of fair and effective representation. Democratic theory is perhaps the area to which one would look for insight, but for the most part it has been too remote from political practice to illuminate the problems of our recent institutional history. These lectures will try to bring the theory of democratic representation into closer contact with its troubled American practice. They aspire to articulate reasonable norms for democratic representation through critical engagement with the findings of scholars who have studied it in the wild.

About Charles Beitz

Charles Beitz is Edwards S. Sanford Professor of Politics at Princeton University, where he has been a member of the faculty since 2001. His teaching focuses on topics in contemporary global and democratic theory and the history of modern political philosophy. He is the author of Political Theory and International Relations (1979, rev. ed. 1999), Political Equality: An Essay in Democratic Theory (1989), and The Idea of Human Rights (2009). His recent papers include essays on topics in the theory of human rights, the fairness of partisan gerrymandering, and moral questions in property law.

At Princeton, Beitz has been director of the University Center for Human Values and the Program in Political Philosophy. Before coming to Princeton, he was dean for academic affairs and professor of government at Bowdoin College and, previously, professor of political science at Swarthmore College. He was review editor and, later, editor of Philosophy & Public Affairs. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has held fellowships from the Guggenheim, Macarthur, and Rockefeller foundations and the ACLS. He holds awards for graduate and undergraduate teaching at Princeton and the Pi Sigma Alpha award for distinguished teaching of the American Political Science Association.

Beitz earned the B.A., summa cum laude, in history at Colgate University, the M.A. in philosophy at the University of Michigan, and the M.A. and Ph.D. in politics and political philosophy at Princeton.

More about The Tanner Lectures



Wednesday, October 19, 2022
4:10 pm - 6:30 pm


Alumni House, The Toll Room
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720 United States


Jane Fink

Events are wheelchair accessible. For disability-related accommodations, contact the organizer of the event. Advance notice is kindly requested.

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