Danielle Allen: Political Philosopher and Historian of Political Thought

Democracy in the Time of Coronavirus

2020 Randy L. and Melvin R. Berlin Family Lectures

Virtual Lectures on Zoom Webinar

Democracy in the Time of Coronavirus

During the course of four lectures, Danielle Allen, the James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University and Director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, explores the distinctive challenges posed to democracy by the emergency conditions brought by a global pandemic. She also describes the specific resources the U.S. Constitutional system has for achieving resilience in the face of this existential threat. Lead author on the recently released report, Roadmap to Pandemic Resilience, Allen will focus on how we can integrate health, economic, ethical, and democratic objectives in our response to COVID-19.

Lecture 1: Bulwark of Democracy—Solidarity and Democratic Resilience in Times of Emergency

Tuesday, May 12, 6 to 7:30 p.m. CDT; Video Will Be Available on May 15.
Existential emergencies pose a distinct kind of challenge to democracies, which often move more slowly in response than autocratic regimes. The moment we are living in provides a good opportunity to return to the perennial question of what a democracy needs in order to prove its worth even in times of emergency.


Lecture 2: Roadmap to Pandemic Resilience

Wednesday, May 13, 6 to 7:30 p.m. CDT; Video Will Be Available on May 15.
Many have used a language of needing to choose between lives and the economy in developing our response to COVID-19. That is, however, not really the challenge we face. Instead the question is how best to mobilize our resources against a multi-pronged existential threat. This lecture explores the prongs of the threat and a framework for achieving an integrated response.


Lecture 3: Federalism Is An Asset

Tuesday, May 19, 6 to 7:30 p.m. CDT
Public health experts rightly rely on collective quarantine as a fundamental tool of disease control. But what about when collective quarantine is used so broadly as to become national quarantine? Is it still a viable public health tool, or do we need an alternative? Can testing, tracing, and isolating individual cases at mass scale be a substitute tool?


Lecture 4: A Transformed Peace

Wednesday, May 20, 6 to 7:30 p.m. CDT
Our economy and society were vulnerable to the pandemic along many dimensions when the Coronavirus hit. This lecture revisits the question of what pandemic readiness and resilience consist of, and proposes what a transformed peace should look like for us. Our world will not look the same at the end of this crisis as it looked at the start, nor should it.

About Danielle Allen

Danielle Allen, James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University, and Director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, is a political theorist who has published broadly in democratic theory, political sociology, and the history of political thought. Widely known for her work on justice and citizenship in both ancient Athens and modern America, Allen is the author of The World of Prometheus: The Politics of Punishing in Democratic Athens (2000), Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown vs. the Board of Education (2004), Why Plato Wrote (2010), Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality (2014), Education and Equality (2016), and Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A. (2017). She is the co-editor of the award-winning Education, Justice, and Democracy (2013, with Rob Reich) and From Voice to Influence: Understanding Citizenship in the Digital Age (2015, with Jennifer Light). She is a former Chair of the Mellon Foundation Board, past Chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.


Allen is also the principal investigator for the Democratic Knowledge Project, a distributed research and action lab at Harvard University. The Democratic Knowledge Project seeks to identify, strengthen, and disseminate the bodies of knowledge, skills, and capacities that democratic citizens need in order to succeed at operating their democracy. The lab has three core projects: the Declaration Resources Project, the Humanities and Liberal Arts Assessment Project (HULA), and the Youth and Participatory Politics Action and Reflection Frame. In addition, the lab is currently co-designing a new yearlong eighth grade civics curriculum for public school districts in Massachusetts, as well as supporting professional development offering and assessment tools.

About the Berlin Family

Randy L. and Melvin R. Berlin are Chicago philanthropists and longtime supporters of the University of Chicago. Randy Lamm Berlin, AM’77, is a former lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School and a member and past chairperson of the Division of the Humanities Council. Melvin R. Berlin (March 23, 1929–July 26, 2019) was Chairman Emeritus and founder of Berlin Packaging, LLC. The Randy L. and Melvin R. Berlin Family Lectures are named in honor of their gift to the Division of the Humanities.