Yale Professor Discusses Political Theory with HSE Students
On March 15, HSE’s School of Cultural Studies welcomed Professor Ian Shapiro from Yale University to talk on two very hot topics: ‘Power and Domination in Political Theory’ and ‘Human Rights in the Contemporary World and Their Prospects’. The presentations were followed by a round table which gave participants further opportunity to engage with this internationally renowned expert in political science. Professor Shapiro’s latest book, Politics against Domination, is soon to be published for the first time in the Russian language.
Political theorist, Professor Shapiro, is no stranger to Russia – he first started visiting Russia prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union and continued to visit regularly during the 1990s to attend political meetings with Russian dignitaries. He met with central committee members of the Communist Party, and had regular meetings with ex-President, Dmitry Medvedev. The professor was continually amazed at just how open and willing to share these Russian politicians were. ‘There is much secrecy in Russian politics’, says Professor Shapiro, ‘but it’s not all secret’.
In the professor’s opinion, something that has changed in Russia since his first visits under the Soviet Union is the intellectual culture. ‘People were often very smart but they had been so isolated that I was often reminded of the intellectual culture of South Africa, where I grew up under the Apartheid.’
However, this is not remotely true today. ‘I have been extremely impressed by the quality of the students here at HSE’, he says. ‘They are very well-read, they speak excellent English and are very well-informed’. The professor was also inspired by the gender equality which he witnessed in his interaction with students at HSE. ‘In the US, males would dominate the sorts of discussions we had’, notes Professor Shapiro. ‘Here, however, most of the questions came from women who were confident and assertive. Female students here behave as if they don’t expect to be sidelined.’
Professor Shapiro has written widely on democracy, justice, and methods of social inquiry.According to the professor, democracies all over the world are currently going through a challenging period. Several years ago, Dmitry Medvedev put forward a notion of democracy with Russian characteristics, which prompted heated debated as to what it implied. Many democracies in the West have also come under strain from populous movements, not least, American democracy with the rise of Donald Trump. Professor Shapiro is optimistic because he believes this movement reflects a heightened awareness of the world’s population which, rather than being certain about having all the answers, is more concerned with asking the right questions.
His latest book, Politics Against Domination, published in 2016, will soon be available in Russian. In it, he draws attention to the fact that, when it comes to politics, people tend to be motivated by their dissatisfactions. That is, they can clearly articulate what doesn’t work, and why they are unhappy, but are less able to articulate a clear concept of what would work better. The professor’s book rejects guides to political action by theorists who draw on the abstract principles of freedom and equality, and instead makes proposals based on the human condition as reactive and adaptive. ‘This is the nature of human behaviour. Human beings are reactive creatures that shy away from what is bad and look for something better. They aren’t capable of plotting out and implementing complete and perfect plans for the future.’
Professor Shapiro also believes that pressure over recent decades to decentralize control of political parties is misplaced, as decentralization alienates voters. This is the very topic of his next book, Responsible Parties: Saving Democracy from Itself, which is co-authored by political economist, Frances Rosenbluth. The authors argue that taking power away from political parties and putting it in the hands of the voters, while intuitively appealing, is a mistake. Decentralization instruments such as plebiscites, referendums and direct selection of leaders make it harder for parties to govern and end up alienating voters even more, which further weakens the parties. Instead, Professor Shapiro proposes the strengthening of political parties and the reestablishing of competition amongst coherent and strong parties as a better way to govern democracies. Responsible Parties: Saving Democracy from Itself is due to be published in August this year.
In early September 2017, Senior Researcher at the IOE Center for Education Law Maria Smirnova, PhD, began her term as an Associate Officer with the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights Administration. Maria’s role involves supporting the organization and holding of the 36th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, during September 11–29, 2017.
From May 24 – 25, 2016, HSE hosted an international human rights conference dedicated to the 20th anniversary of Russia’s accession to the Council of Europe. The conference entitled ‘Human Rights Education and Research in the Promotion of the Council of Europe Standards’ was organized by HSE (Department of Theory and History of Law), the Council of Europe, and the Presidential Council on the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights (HRC). The forum attracted Russian lawyers and professors involved in human rights studies, their colleagues in Europe, as well as officials and diplomats involved in Russia’s accession to and work in the Council of Europe.
Evgeny Yasin to Head Council on the Role of Civil Society and Human Rights in Economic Modernization
Evgeny Yasin, Academic Supervisor at HSE, has been named head of the Russian Presidential Council for Civil Society Institutions Development and Human Rights. The decision by the Council follows an initiative by Irina Khakamada, who previously headed the council.
On August 10, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a directive appointing HSE Academic Supervisor Evgeny Yasin to the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights. His candidacy was proposed by Council head Mikhail Fedotov.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an executive order on recognizing almost 200 Russians for their achievements in the workplace, many years of conscientious work, and active role taken in society. Those recognized included several members of the Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights, including Dean of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs Sergey Karaganov and Professor at the Faculty of Law Tamara Morshchakova.