San Diego Law Review


Michael Blake

Library of Congress Authority File


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The charge for this conference asked us to consider the future of liberal democracy given the challenges it presently faces. Two challenges in particular give me pause:

First, the issues that are most in need of governance are now happening at the transnational level. We face the possibility of an altered climate due to increased carbon emissions; increased political turbulence due to increased migration flows, including a resurgence of refugees and, of course, increased resistance to refugee admissions; and increasingly complex international processes for both the production of goods and the movement of capital. None of these issues can be solved at a local level; all require the will to engage in politics across differences in global institutions and forums.

Second, the default tool for political governance—liberal democracy, or some version of it—is increasingly under assault. Even in stable democracies such as the United States, trust in government is near historic lows. Fewer people are willing to engage in politics across differences in favor of some version of authoritarian populism. Even when authoritarianism has not taken hold, there is a rise in secessionism, whether literal or the more nuanced sort of separatism that insists that one’s political adversaries are traitors or fools…

In this Article, I will discuss three possible spaces: education, especially higher education; political activism and the modes in which it might be done; and journalism. I must say, though, that I am not confident that any of these sites will actually be able to do the job. It is not clear that the problems of liberal democracy are soluble, whether through these means or any others. Nevertheless, I would like for us to try. If we are to abandon liberal democracy, it should only be after we have tried our best to be the sort of people for whom liberal democracy was possible. Epistocracy if necessary; but, emphatically, not necessarily epistocracy.

In the next section of the Article, I will describe three forms of deference that seem necessary for the just and efficient administration of liberal democracy. In the following section, I will describe the three sites at which we might try to build these habits of deference. I will conclude with some brief thoughts about whether or not such efforts are likely to succeed.

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