Course date

12 July - 23 July, 2021
Application for this course is closed.
Course Director(s): 

Orna Ben-Naftali

College of Management Academic Studies (Colman), Rishon LeTsiyon, Israel

Shai  Lavi

The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute/Tel Aviv University, Israel

Daniel Monterescu

Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary
Course Faculty: 

Roger Berkowitz

Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities, Bard College, New York, USA

Ewa Atanassow

Political Thought, Bard College Berlin, Germany

Jana Lozanoska

Human Rights Lawyer
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, that 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 which 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.