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This course is archived
Course date
July 12–23, 2021
Application deadline
Course delivery

The COVID-19 pandemic erupted amidst a deeper crisis facing liberal democracies and simultaneously extenuated it. The course extends an invitation to reflect on this crisis and rethink the building blocks of modern political and socio-legal theory. 
This invitation, grounded in an interdisciplinary theoretical inquiry and critical reflection on the crisis within the crisis (of liberal democracies – both states' institutions and civil societies - dealing with the pandemic crisis) thus transforms the predicament into an opportunity to re-examine basic assumptions and to propose new paths for living together, in a way that seeks to replace exclusionary populism with a vision of inclusive democracy.
That the vision of liberal democracy is undergoing a crisis is by now self-evident: the rise of nationalism, populism, the politics of polarization, and the ensuing upsurge of "illiberal democracies" and their construction of new "enemies of the people" (in diverse regions like the U.S, Brazil, Hungary, Poland and Israel), the refugee crisis, the widening economic gaps and social polarization have been undermining the values of liberalism and liberal institutions – the judicial system, communications, culture, and the academic world.
Liberalism has come to be considered a sectarian position, and those who champion it are thought to be advancing particularistic interests, suited to their own Weltanschauung and lifestyle. It appears somewhat ironic that liberalism, which propounds a universal vision of equality and freedom, has come to be considered particularistic. There is, however, some logic in this: in a society that has such profound cultural and values-driven diversity, it is difficult for liberal values, including universalism, equality, freedom of the individual from tradition and authority, and the very principle of the rule of law, to serve as a common springboard for a shared life.
The course will return to foundational questions of liberal democracy through the perspective of the new global pandemic, an event that may be understood as both a metaphor for and as a crystallization of the malaise of liberal democracies. The fundamental questions accentuated by our experience with and management of the pandemic include individual freedom vs. collective attachments; expert knowledge vs. populist sentiments; rule vs. exception; economic concerns understood in terms of growth vs. general welfare; and, indeed, questions arising from the very notion of the social contract and the role of the state. 
The course will comprise three parts: (a) An exposition in which students will reflect in a structured way on their experience in facing the pandemic on a personal, professional, and national level (e.g., anxiety, economic insecurity, care, pause from daily routines, solidarity, different forms of isolation, intimacy, and social interaction; (mis)trust); (b) The main part, which will be comprised of a sustained discussion of the major building blocks of the "social contract" and include relating the broad theory to their personal experiences. The discussion is designed to explore both historical/imaginative narratives of plagues and the extent to which some of the existing political, social, and legal theories – particularly of human rights discourse and its critics - capture or fail to exhaust the experience of the pandemic in its multiplicity; (c) And a final exercise, in which students working in small groups and, playing with these building blocks will develop their own thought and voice to generate a policy for addressing not only the emergence of a future critical situation but the on-going crisis of liberal democracy. 

Online course format

The first week of the course will be dedicated to preparatory readings and assignments, while most of the Zoom meetings will take place during the second week between 13:00 – 18:00 CET (no more than 180 min. a day). We will do our best to accommodate the different time zones of international students. 

Completed CEU Summer University Application Form

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The SUN Office will notify applicants about the selection results in April. Please check the 'Dates and deadlines' section on the relevant course websites for notification deadlines planned earlier or later. The final decision is not open to appeal.