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Celebrating Recent Work by Jean Louise Cohen

New Books in the Arts and Sciences

dateApril 28, 2022 timeThursday, 4:15pm EDT location International Affairs Building (IAB), Lindsay Rogers Room (Room 707), Columbia University locationVirtual Event
  • The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities
  • The Political Science Department
  • The Dean of the Division of Social Science
  • The Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy
  • Free and open to the public
  • Registration required. See details.
Cover of Populism and Civil Society: The Challenge to Constitutional Democracy by Andrew Arato and Jean L. Cohen

Populism and Civil Society: The Challenge to Constitutional Democracy

by: Jean Cohen and Andrew Arato

Populism and Civil Society provides a political assessment and critical theory of the significance of what is now a global phenomenon: the growing populist challenge to constitutional democracy. Andrew Arato and Jean L. Cohen examine the challenge it presents in terms of its four main organizational forms: socio-political movement, political party, government, and regime. They focus in particular on the tense relationship of populism to democracy and of populism to constitutionalism. Without presupposing the authoritarian logic of the phenomenon in the definition, the book demonstrates it through the reconstruction of the main elements used by advocates to identify populism. To be sure, the authoritarian logic of populism is not realized in every instance of it, and the book analyses why this is so. Across modern history, many populist governments have in fact been "hybrid" regimes, blending authoritarian elements and residual democratic forms. Populism on its own, however, is a form of abusive or instrumental "constitutionalism" that typically relies on the alleged permanence of the quasi-revolutionary constituent power. The book concludes by outlining a non- and anti-populist project of democratization and social justice, distinguishing between the "popular" and the "populist" and offering a program that is nourished by the plurality of democracies and which rescues some of left populism's more benevolent "host ideologies."

About the Authors:

Jean Cohen (Ph.D., New School for Social Research, 1979) is the Nell and Herbert M. Singer Professor of Political Thought and Contemporary Civilization. She teaches contemporary political and legal theory; continental political thought; rights, religion and constitutional democracy; contemporary civilization, critical theory, and international political theory. Professor Cohen is the author of numerous books and articles including Class and Civil Society: The Limits of Marxian Critical Theory (University of Massachusetts Press, 1982); Civil Society and Political Theory (co-authored with Andrew Arato) (MIT Press, 1992); Regulating Intimacy: A New Legal Paradigm (Princeton University Press, 2002); and Globalization and Sovereignty: Rethinking Legality, Legitimacy and Constitutionalism (Cambridge University Press, 2012). Professor Cohen's areas of interest are sovereignty, human rights, religion and democratic constitutionalism, and gender and the law. Her current work is focused on democratic constitutionalism and the discourse of religious freedom: the challenges that "accommodation" and religious legal pluralism pose to liberalism, democratic legitimacy, the rule of law and constitutional democracy.

Andrew Arato is the Dorothy Hart Hirshon Professor in Political and Social Theory in the Sociology Department at the New School for Social Research. He has taught at L'École des hautes études and Sciences Po in Paris, as well as at the Central European University in Budapest. He had a Fulbright teaching grant to Montevideo in 1991, and was Distinguished Fulbright Professor at the Goethe University in Frankfurt/M,Germany. Professor Arato has served as a consultant for the Hungarian Parliament on constitutional issues (1996-1997), and as U.S. State Department Democracy Lecturer and Consultant (on Constitutional issues) on Nepal (2007). He was re-appointed by the State Department in the same capacity for Zimbabwe (November of 2010), where he had discussions with civil society activists and political leaders in charge of the constitution-making process. He was an invited Professor at the College de France (Spring 2012). Interests include the politics of civil society, constitutional theory, comparative politics of constitution-making, religion, secularism and constitutions. He also teaches general courses in political sociology, social theory and sociology of religion.

About the speakers:

Mabel Berezin is a comparative sociologist whose work explores the intersection of political institutions and cultural meanings with an emphasis on challenges to democratic cohesion and solidarity in Europe and the United States. She is the author of Making the Fascist Self: The Political Culture of Interwar Italy which was awarded the J. David Greenstone Prize by the American Political Science Association and which Choice named an “Outstanding Academic Book of 1997;” Illiberal Politics in Neoliberal Times: Culture, Society and Populism in the New Europe; and co-editor with Martin Schain of Europe without Borders: Remapping Territory, Citizenship, and Identity in a Transnational Age. Berezin’s research lies at the intersection of cultural and political sociology.

Jedediah S. Purdy is the William S. Beinecke Professor of Law. A prolific scholar, he joined the Columbia Law School faculty in 2019 after 15 years at Duke Law School. He teaches and writes about environmental, property, and constitutional law as well as legal and political theory. Purdy’s most recent book, This Land Is Our Land: The Struggle for a New Commonwealth, explores how the land has historically united and divided Americans, shows how environmental politics has always been closely connected with issues of distribution and justice, and describes humanity as an “infrastructure species. In his previous book, After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene, he traced the long history of environmental law as a central feature of American political and cultural life. Purdy clerked for Judge Pierre N. Leval of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York City. A member of the New York State Bar, he is a contributing editor of The American Prospect and serves on the editorial board of Dissent.

Sheri Berman is a professor of Political Science at Barnard College, Columbia University. Her research interests include European history and politics; the development of democracy; populism and fascism; and the history of the left. She has written about these topics for a wide variety of scholarly and non-scholarly publications, including the New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, and VOX. She currently serves on the boards of the Journal of Democracy, Dissent and Political Science Quarterly. Her most recent book, Democracy and Dictatorship: From the Ancien Regime to the Present Day, was published by Oxford University Press in 2019.