Public invited to Professor Shapiro’s ‘Power and Politics’ DeVane Lectures

Professor Ian Shapiro will explore “Power and Politics in Today’s World” in the latest DeVane Lecture series, open to Yale undergrads and the general public.
Ian Shapiro
Ian Shapiro

How did we get from the huge euphoria that followed the fall of communism in the early 1990s to our present politics of fear and resentment, and what are the prospects going forward? Sterling Professor of Political Science Ian Shapiro plans to answer these questions for Yale students and the general public in his fall 2019 course “Power and Politics in Today’s World,” the latest in Yale’s DeVane Lecture series.

The DeVane Lecture series is a free program that invites members of the New Haven and Yale communities to attend a semester-long class alongside Yale students, who can take the course for credit.

Shapiro’s 2019 DeVane course will be a comparative study of power and politics since the Cold War. The class will meet from 11:35 a.m to 12:50 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays from Aug. 29 through Dec. 5 tentatively in the lecture hall of Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall (SSS 114). Click here for the class webpage, which includes the course syllabus and resources for the public.

I’m very much looking forward to the opportunity and challenge that this class presents,” says Shapiro. “These are issues that many people are interested in. Like it or not, they are reshaping our lives.”

Power and Politics” does not require participants to have prior specialized knowledge, but Shapiro says he’s committed to making it as rigorous as any Yale course, not abridging or watering down any of the content. It draws on materials he has been teaching in Yale College, the School of Management, and the Law School in recent years.

Power and Politics in Today’s World” is divided into five parts, beginning with the global collapse of communism and its aftermath in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In part two, the focus shifts to the post-communist global order and growing optimism about the future, when commentators like Francis Fukuyama declared that countries the world over were converging on benign forms of liberal democracy. Part three, “The End of the End of History,” addresses the more pessimistic politics ushered in by 9/11, marked by protracted wars across the Middle East and the global financial crisis of 2008. Here, Shapiro says he’ll also discuss “paths not taken”: what could have been done differently to lead to better outcomes. The penultimate section of “Power and Politics” deals with the forces shaping our current politics, specifically the enduring job insecurity that Shapiro contends is driving today’s political turmoil.  

The last part of the course on “What is to be done?” focuses on the future. “There we’re going to explore policies that could address the economic insecurity that is making the politics of fear and resentment so potent and destructive,” says Shapiro. “We will discuss political reforms that are needed, economic reforms that are needed, and the relations between them.”

He adds that this final section will “marry the insights” from his two recent books, “Responsible Parties: Saving Democracy from Itself”(Yale University Press 2018), and “The Wolf at the Door: The Menace of Economic Insecurity and How to Fight It” (Harvard University Press, forthcoming 2020). The former, written with Yale political scientist Frances Rosenbluth, argues that political reforms of the past three decades have weakened political parties, making it harder for governments to govern effectively. The latter, written with Columbia and Yale legal scholar Michael Graetz, is about the policies that are now needed to address the economic insecurity that underlies the malignant populism that has erupted in so many democracies since 2016.

The idea for “Power and Politics” came to Shapiro a few years ago when he began teaching a course about the relations between business and government following the collapse of communism. The class met at the Yale School of Management and consisted of both MBA students and undergraduates. Shapiro wondered initially whether teaching to this mixed group would be successful, he says, but he discovered that the students brought complementary perspectives to the material that enriched what they, and he, took away from the course.

Different kinds of students also bring different needs to the classroom, notes Shapiro, which is why he has arranged to have a dedicated teaching fellow for students from the general public. This teaching fellow will hold weekly office hours, just as teaching fellows do for undergraduates in typical Yale lecture courses. About five times during the semester, Shapiro and the designated teaching fellow will also tape virtual “office hours” — in which they’ll answer recurring and/or interesting questions raised by students — and make them available online on the course website.

Shapiro also plans to incorporate video into many, if not most, of his “Power and Politics” lectures. He’ll screen a relevant newsreel or primary source video of watershed political moments, like the fall of the Berlin Wall or the protests at Tiananmen Square, at the beginning of lecture to get the class in the mindset of the world 30 years ago. While the videos will be helpful to all “Power and Politics” students, Shapiro believes they’ll be especially useful for undergraduates, most of whom had not yet been born or were too young when the decisive events of the 1980s and 90s unfolded.

Shapiro says he hopes that by the end of the class all of his students “will be less inclined to focus on the symptoms of the problem and more inclined to focus on the root problem,” which he believes is actually two problems, one economic and the other political.

The basic economic problem is that long-term job security is a thing of the past,” he elaborates. “People my age could expect to take a job out of college and do it until retirement. Young people today have to anticipate changing jobs five, six or even more times during their lifetimes. That is a frightening prospect for many millions of people. We need policies to address long-term structural employment insecurity more than anything else.”

The basic political problem is that people focus on the rise of populism and gridlock without understanding what’s producing it. Political reform over the last three decades has mostly been like bloodletting. We’ve been making changes that either have no effect on our politics or actually make things worse by weakening political parties to the point of incapacitation. We need to reform political systems to change that,” he says.

After the conclusion of “Power and Politics in Today’s World,” Professor Shapiro intends to record an online version of the class will be available free via Coursera.

The DeVane Lecture series was established in 1969 in honor of William Clyde DeVane, dean of Yale College from 1939 to 1963. The last DeVane Lecture course was “The Evolution of Beauty: From Warblers to Warhol,” taught by Richard O. Prum, the William Robertson Coe Professor of Ornithology, Ecology, and Evolutionary Biology at Yale.

Shapiro is the former Henry R. Luce Director of the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies. He has written widely and influentially on democracy, justice, and the methods of social inquiry. A native of South Africa, he received his J.D. from the Yale Law School and his Ph.D. from the Yale’s Department of Political Science, where he has taught since 1984.


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