Chasing Democracy in an Age of Mistrust
In the Social Research issue on “Fraud,” political scientist E.E. Schattschneider is quoted by Andrew Gumbel as saying, “Democracy as we now understand it has been superimposed on an old governmental structure which was inhospitable to the idea.” His statement does not refer to democracy as a concept, but specifically to the strain of democracy that exists in America. In the article “Election Fraud and the Myths of American Democracy,” Gumbel expands on Schattschneider’s description of American democracy, saying “the US has been both a living experiment in the expansion of democratic rights and also a world-class laboratory for voter suppression and election stealing techniques.”
These commentaries on American democracy make it surprising that widespread, mainstream concern over preserving a fair democratic process arose only four election cycles ago, in the wake of the 2000 election’s Florida recount vote. Media coverage of the mishap made international headlines, and Americans finally began peeling off their blinders that shielded them from a system that has been laden with fraud, cons, and scams for its entire existence.
The public’s pursuit of promoting a transparent and accountable democracy is consistent with our knowing that when we understand something, we are better equipped to protect against it. Voter fraud is only one aspect of our mistrust in politics, and politics is only one of many areas rife with deception for gain. The 2016 election was characterized by deep suspicion of the electoral process and fraught with accusations of the winning candidate’s being a con man. And now, of course, we are in the midst of the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
On April 23 and 24, the Center for Public Scholarship will host the 37th Social Research conference titled “Cons and Scams: Their Place in American Culture.”
This symposium will explore cons and scams in their many guises and what makes us vulnerable to them, with particular attention to the current political scene in the US. Speakers will address subjects ranging from Bernie Madoff’s billion dollar Ponzi scheme to street corner crooks and their games of three-card monte; art forgeries to fraudulent scientific articles; predatory universities and pseudo-academic journals to magical cures for incurable diseases. There are cons everywhere we look, but this is perhaps the first time we have a US president whom some prominent public figures have called a con artist. Join us to learn more about what allows us to be conned at all and what it says about American democracy.
Register for free: consandscams.eventbrite.com
Stay tuned to read “Cons and Scams” as a forthcoming issue of Social Research in 2019.
You may also be interested in:
"Corruption, Accountability and Transparency," Vol. 80, No. 4 (Winter 2013)
Refugee Scholars: The Cross-Fertilization of Culture
Guest-edited by Harald Hagemann and William Milberg
Social Research Volume 84, No. 4 (Winter 2017)
At the onset of World War Two, a remarkable effort was born in the United States to rescue European scholars whose lives were threatened by the growing occupation. Hundreds of scholars found safe refuge in the United States, the largest number of whom either passed through or made their intellectual home at the New School for Social Research, where they were able to continue their scholarly work and make significant contributions, not only to their academic fields but to their new home.
This special issue of Social Research, guest-edited by Harald Hagemann (University of Hohenheim) and William Milberg (New School for Social Research), examines the complex matter of refugee scholarship:
the political and social context of flight and rescue, including papers by Gunnar Take on American support for German economists after 1933 and Simone Lässig on reconsidering the strategies and mechanisms of scholar rescue in the 1930s;
the struggles and successes of individual scholars establishing themselves in a new land and the impact of a refugee existence on their intellectual productivity, with articles on Frieda Wunderlich, Gerhard Colm, Hannah Arendt, Franco Modigliani, and others;
the relevance of that earlier intellectual migration to the current context, including essays by Ludger Pries comparing the migrations of the 1930s and the 2010s, and Daniel Bessner, who examines the frequent invocation of the Weimar period as analogous to today.
Eighty-four years ago this season in Social Research
“In the melting pot of fascism are naturalism and individualism, as they are combined in the spiritual chemism of nationalism; neo-Machiavellianism and Storm and Stress; ideal of the totem and of the "folk" and hero worship…; aesthetic privacy of aristocratic feeling and herd-like compactness of demagogy; operatic picturesqueness of conspiracies (from Ku Klux Klan onward) and equally operatic thrill of parades and processions; appeal of the past and revolutionary thrill toward an unknown future; philosophic—chiefly Fichtean and Hegelian—“nationolatry” and statolatry; philosophic anarchism; and many other more or less romantic substances. Their prolonged enumeration would be as easy as futile: a matter of course, and a matter without end.”
—G. A. Borgese, The Intellectual Origins of Fascism, Volume 1, Number 4 (Winter 1934)