Degenerations of Democracy, Regenerations of Democracy

Panels and Discussions

During this double panel of public presentations, distinguished scholars from Canada, Europe, India, and the United States discussed how and why democracies tend to weaken and degenerate over time, even in highly developed and affluent liberal societies. At the same time, these scholars also identifed and evaluated opportunities for regenerating and rebuilding democracies, especially in developing countries facing challenges of economic duress, poor governance, and communal conflicts.

During the first panel, Charles Taylor and Craig Calhoun discussed their recent book (co-authored with Dilip Gaonkar), Degenerations of Democracy (Harvard University Press, 2022), focusing on issues such as the decline of citizen efficacy, the undermining of small-town economies, the weakening of cross-cutting social relations, the politics of misinformation and polarization, and the excesses of meritocracy and financialization. They also briefly discussed what might be done about these issues.

During the second panel, Mukulika Banerjee and Yogendra Yadav critically engaged the “degeneration” thesis by focusing on recent developments in India, such as the Indian Farmers’ Protest (9 August, 2020–11December, 2021), Bharat Jodo Yatra (a march across India against “divisive politics,” 7 September, 2022–30 Jan, 2023), and the Karnataka Assembly Elections (May 2023). While not claiming that the state of democracy in India today is an example of “regeneration,” they argued that the dialectic of “degeneration” and “regeneration” is, as it has always been, complex, murky, and contingent, and requires unflinching vigilance and struggle on the part of the friends of democracy everywhere.

A recording of the event is available below.


Panel 1:  Degenerations of Democracy
Charles Taylor, political scientist and philosopher. He is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at McGill University in Montreal and a Permanent Fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM).
Craig Calhoun, Professor of Social Sciences at Arizona State University, comparative and historical sociologist, social theorist.
Shalini Randeria (Moderator), President and Rector of the Central European University, former Rector of the IWM. 

Panel 2:  Regenerations of Democracy
Yogendra Yadav, Indian social activist, politician and political scientist. Co-founder of the Jai Kisan Andolan public movement and the Swaraj India political party.
Mukulika Banerjee, Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
Dilip Gaonkar (Moderator), Professor in Rhetoric and Public Culture and the Director of Center for Global Culture and Communication at Northwestern University.

Ludger Hagedorn, IWM Permanent Fellow, opened the evening and introduced the speakers.