About the Speaker:
Sheri Berman is Associate Professor of Political Science at Barnard College, Columbia University. Her research interests focus on issues of comparative political development, European politics and history, globalization, social theory, and history of the Left. Some of her recent publications include: "The Primacy of Politics: Social Democracy and the Ideological Dynamics of the Twentieth Century" (2006, Cambridge University Press); "Violence, Conflict, and Civil Society," Mittelweg, Spring 2006 (academic paper); "Islamism, Revolution, and Civil Society," Perspectives on Politics, 1, 2, June 2003 (academic paper). Berman received her B.A. (1987) from Yale, and M.A. (1990) and PhD. (1994) from Harvard.
About the Event:
The best way to understand how stable, well-functioning democracies develop is to analyze the political trajectories such countries have actually taken. For the most part, this means looking at Western Europe and North America. When we look carefully at these cases we see that the political backstory of most democracies is one of struggle, conflict and even violence. Problems and even failures did not mean that democracy would be impossible to achieve some day; in fact, they can in retrospect often be seen to be integral parts of the long-term processes through which non-democratic institutions, elites, and cultures were delegitimized and eventually eliminated, and their democratic successors forged. An important reason many do not seem to realize this is because of a lack of historical perspective: contemporary analysts often ignore or misread the often messy and unattractive manner in which the current crop of stable democracies actually developed. Understanding past cases better is thus a crucial step toward putting today's democratization and democracy promotion discussions into proper intellectual and historical context.