DCC Program Goals
In Philadelphia in 1787, Americans created the first democracy generated and limited by a written constitution. In so doing they transformed themselves from royal subjects to democratic citizens with constitutional rights. Their work has had enduring impact. In the past generation peoples on every continent have broken free from old-style European imperialism, Soviet-style Communism, and many forms of authoritarianism. They have sought to construct democratic political systems bounded by judicially-enforced constitutional constraints. Everywhere, those who were once the colonized, the proletariat, or the subject populace are becoming citizens of constitutional democracies.
Yet potent as this combination is, it contains profound tensions that are in the 21st century only more acute. Democracy means all citizens should participate in meaningful self-governance. Constitutionalism means that all citizens should have rights to effective political participation and many personal freedoms. But democratic majorities sometimes violate the constitutional rights of minorities. Judicial efforts to enforce rights sometimes thwart democratic goals. Even when enforced, constitutional systems of democratic representation often fail to give all citizens any real share in collective decision-making. And though all citizens are supposed to possess basic rights, no constitutional democracy defines its citizenry, its people, as coextensive with all those capable of possessing such rights. Both democratic membership and constitutional protections are bounded in ways that privilege those in certain regions or the bearers of certain languages, religions, races, ethnicities, shared cultures and histories.
The spread of many new forms of constitutional democracy in an increasingly economically and technologically interconnected world is making all these tensions more urgent today, and raising new ones. In large-scale modern societies, representative institutions can be so inaccessible as to make democratic participation by ordinary citizens an empty ritual. Yet as the decisions of governments affect billions beyond their national bounds, many believe democratic principles call for the creation of supra-national forms of democratic governance and political membership. The rise of technologies of mass communication can promote a sense of shared fate among larger and larger populations; but mass media are often thought to have increased the abilities of elites to manipulate, not inform, public opinion. Within and across political boundary lines, controversies over whether systems of representation should express or efface distinctive racial, ethnic, religious, linguistic, and indeed national identities also abound. And while enhanced power for constitutional courts can seem essential to achieve the rule of law and the rights of all, often courts seem instead to protect the rights of a privileged economic, racial, cultural, religious, or partisan few at the expense, again, of genuine democratic citizenship for many.
Democracy, citizenship, and constitutionalism thus raise broad-ranging yet deeply interconnected concerns. In many modern universities, it is difficult to pursue these concerns in all their rich interconnections due to academic specialization. Constitutionalism is a subject for lawyers; democratic institutions for political scientists; ethnicity, religion, and culture are for sociologists, anthropologists, and historians; the media are grist for communications specialists. The University of Pennsylvania is richly supplied with scholars in all these disciplines, but it has always favored research and teaching that cross disciplinary lines.
Today, President Amy Gutmann has made the task of integrating knowledge a central goal of the Penn Compact. The President, the Provost's Office, and School of Arts and Sciences Dean Rebecca Bushnell have designated "democracy and constitutionalism," which center on experiences of citizenship, as integral to University and SAS plans for teaching and research. They have also placed renewed emphasis on making Penn a center for international scholarship and for serious research by graduate students and undergraduates as well as faculty.
The Penn Program on Democracy, Citizenship and Constitutionalism is designed to build on the University's established strengths in pursuit of these scholarly goals. Its Faculty Workshop Series and Spring Conference on annual themes will result in publications of cutting-edge scholarship on topics of public and scholarly significance. The DCC Postdoctoral Fellowship, the DCC Graduate Fellowships and Graduate Workshop, and the DCC Undergraduate Research Grants will involve younger scholars at all levels and their faculty mentors in the fresh thinking and research demanded by the challenges and the opportunities that the spread of citizenship in constitutional democracies poses today.