David Moss, the Paul Whiton Cherington Professor at Harvard Business School, will examine the health of American democracy from a historical perspective.
Fears about extreme political conflict and polarization have been at the center of American political discourse in recent years. Yet, in his new book Democracy: A Case Study (Harvard University Press, 2017), Harvard Business School professor David Moss writes that political conflict is vital for democracy. “Political conflict is not a disease, as some pundits contend,” he writes, “but instead an essential feature of American democracy.”
In recent years, particularly in the last 12 months, it has become increasingly accepted for scholars and analysts to say that the U.S. is undergoing a crisis of democracy. Along with a rise in inequality and a decline of trust in government, the culprit most often associated with this ongoing democratic crisis is political polarization which—it is often said—has left the nation divided and rife with conflicts, its political system gridlocked and sharply split along partisan lines.
However, declarations about the decline of American democracy have been made throughout its history, yet the most dire predictions almost always proved false. History, argues Moss, can offer hope to those who feel besieged by claims that American democracy is on the edge of disaster today. In fact, history shows that American democracy has often thrived on political conflict. Political conflict, according to Moss, represents competition in the marketplace of ideas that is essential to the proper functioning of a democracy. The key question, he says, is not whether there is too much conflict, but rather whether that conflict is constructive or destructive—and history provides important clues to the answer.
In his new book, which was published by Harvard University Press last month, Moss applies the case-study method made famous by the Harvard Business School to the study of American history. Moss presents readers with 19 case studies revolving around pivotal moments in American history—moments of intense political conflict such as the establishment of the Bank of the United States in 1791, or the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010. The book then encourages them to step into the shoes of key decision makers at the time and grapple with the questions and dilemmas that they grappled with, with the aim of revitalizing today’s political debate.
On Monday, March 6, Moss will give a lecture at the Stigler Center that will examine the health of American democracy from a historical perspective. Exploring the strengths and weaknesses of America’s political system over the past 230-plus years, Moss will focus on the nature of political conflict over time, and whether partisan divisions and other political fault lines have become especially dangerous today—or whether American democracy is likely to bounce back, as it has so many times before.
Moss, the Paul Whiton Cherington Professor at Harvard Business School, will also elaborate on the thesis of his new book and discuss ways in which it’s possible for America’s democracy to overcome its many present-day challenges.
The event will be held on March 6 at 4:30pm at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business Harper Center. You can find details and registration information here.