“Danielle Allen is a towering political philosopher of the democratic art of being and a force for good.”
―Dr. Cornel West, author of Democracy Matters: Winning the War on Imperialism
Danielle Allen is a seasoned leader, public policy and public affairs expert, national voice on pandemic response, and distinguished academic and author. Danielle’s work to make the world better for young people has taken her from teaching college and leading a $60 million university division to driving change as board chair for a $6 billion foundation, writing for the Washington Post, and most recently, to running for governor of Massachusetts.
Currently the James Bryant Conant University Professor and Director of the Allen Lab for Democracy Renovation at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center, Allen co-chaired the Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship, formed to explore how best to respond to the weaknesses and vulnerabilities in political and civic life. Its final and bipartisan report, Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century, was released in June 2020 and includes six strategies and 31 ambitious recommendations to help the nation emerge as a more resilient democracy by 2026, the nation’s 250th anniversary. During the height of COVID in 2020, Allen’s leadership in rallying coalitions and building solutions resulted in policies adopted in federal legislations and a Biden executive order. Her book Democracy in the Time of Coronavirus, “a trenchant call for reimagining how America functions in a time of crisis” (Publishers Weekly), builds off this scholarship to offer a plan for creating a more resilient democratic polity—one that can better respond to both the present pandemic and future crises.
Allen is also the author of several books addressing the broad history and personal significance of justice and democracy including Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality, Cuz: An American Tragedy, and, most recently, Justice by Means of Democracy.
With Justice by Means of Democracy, Allen offers a bold and urgent articulation of a new political philosophy: power-sharing liberalism. At a time of great social and political turmoil, when many residents of the leading democracies question the ability of their governments to deal fairly and competently with serious public issues, and when power seems more and more to rest with the wealthy few, Allen reconsiders the very foundations of justice and democracy. The surest path to a just society in which all have the support necessary to flourish is the protection of political equality, and recognizing this leads to an alternative strategy for the project of political economy. By showing how we all might fully share power and responsibility across politics, economy and society, Allen advances a culture of civic engagement and empowerment, revealing the universal benefits of an effective government in which all participate on equal terms.
Allen’s orientation towards the promise and demands of America’s democracy are on full display in Our Declaration. Inspired by her work in justice and citizenship, and troubled by the fact that so few Americans actually know what the Declaration of Independence says, Allen set out to explore the arguments of the Declaration, reading it with both adult night students and University of Chicago undergraduates. Keenly aware that the Declaration is riddled with contradictions―liberating some while subjugating slaves and Native Americans―Allen and her students nonetheless came to see that the Declaration makes a coherent and riveting argument about equality. They found not a historical text that required memorization, but an animating force that could and did transform the course of their everyday lives. In an “uncommonly elegant, incisive, and often poetic primer on America’s cardinal text,” Our Declaration brings these insights to the general reader, illuminating the “three great themes of the Declaration: equality, liberty, and the abiding power of language” (David M. Kennedy). With its cogent analysis and passionate advocacy, Our Declaration thrillingly affirms the continuing relevance of America’s founding text, ultimately revealing what democracy actually means and what it asks of us. Our Declaration was awarded the Heartland Prize, the Zócalo Book Prize, and the Society of American Historians’ Francis Parkman Prize.
She is the recipient of the 2020 John W. Kluge Prize for Achievement in the Study of Humanity, an award administered by the Library of Congress that recognizes work in disciplines not covered by the Nobel Prizes as well as a MacArthur Fellowship and honorary degrees from multiple colleges and universities.here.