Episode One


In 1789, the Constitutional Convention decided to revive a form of government untried since the collapse of the Athenian democracy and the Roman republic in ancient times. Why? What structural problems does democracy solve, and what problems does it create? These days, when even autocrats stage elections to bolster their legitimacy, is democracy the natural form of government? How did America’s young democracy manage the peaceful transfer of power between bitterly opposed political factions, when so many modern democracies fail that test?


Danielle Allen, James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University, and Director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, is a political theorist who has published broadly in democratic theory, political sociology, and the history of political thought. Widely known for her work on justice and citizenship in both ancient Athens and modern America, Allen is the author of The World of Prometheus: The Politics of Punishing in Democratic Athens(2000), Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown vs. the Board of Education (2004), Why Plato Wrote (2010), Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality (2014), Education and Equality (2016), and Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A. (2017).