On June 21st we will be hosting a virtual conversation with Dr. Danielle Allen. We will discuss two of her recent books: Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A. and Democracy in the Time of Coronavirus.
You can read one or both. Below are two overviews/reviews of the book. Happy reading and hope to see you on Tuesday, June 21st at 3 pm ET. You can register here!
By G. John Ikenberry – January/February 2022
In this stirring manifesto, the renowned political theorist Allen argues that the United States’ woeful response to the COVID-19 pandemic must serve as a wake-up call for Americans to rebuild their public health infrastructure and renew their constitutional democracy. For Allen, the crux of the problem is the breakdown of the American social contract, a rupture that left minorities and low-income workers unprotected in the face of the pandemic. She sees this as a “learning moment,” an opportunity to pose constitutional questions about how the United States might better equip itself to cope with global threats. Protecting what the U.S. Constitution calls the “general welfare” is the first task of government, and the laudable recent efforts of other democracies, such as Australia and Germany, help point the way. As Allen sees it, the failures of the United States to protect people from the deadly virus—and from the human suffering and social inequalities that followed—are more than public policy missteps; they reveal a deeper failure to make good on the “responsibilities of governance” that undergird the legitimacy of a constitutional democracy.
Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A. – A Review by Publisher Weekly
Allen, a professor of history at Harvard University and author of Our Declaration, tells the story of her late cousin Michael, who spent his years “from adolescent bloom to full manhood” in prison. In doing so, she puts a face to the numbing statistics of incarcerated young black boys and men. Michael’s story is not simple: he didn’t have a criminal history when he was arrested for attempted carjacking in 1995, but he was charged as an adult with multiple offenses, thus exposing him to California’s three-strikes law and leading to a plea bargain and 11 years in prison. While serving time, Michael flourished, becoming a firefighter and completing his GED and some college correspondence courses. After his release in 2006, and with Allen’s help, Michael obtained a driver’s license, bank account, library card, job, and housing. At the time, Allen was hopeful that with the help and support of his family “Michael could defy the pattern of parolees” and straighten his life out. Alas, in July 2009, barely three years out of prison, Michael was found shot dead in his car. Allen attributes Michael’s tragic death to two elements. One was that Michael found himself trapped in “a war between sovereigns: the parastate of a drug world increasingly linked to gangs on one side, and the California and federal governments on the other.” The other was his love for a transsexual woman he met in prison who in the end was charged with his murder. At its heart, Allen’s book is both an outcry and entreaty as she grapples with a painful reality: “I no longer knew a way of helping.”