The series 55 Voices for Democracy is inspired by the 55 BBC radio addresses Thomas Mann delivered from his home in California to thousands of listeners in Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, and the occupied Netherlands and Czechoslovakia between October 1940 and November 1945. In his monthly addresses, Mann spoke out strongly against fascism, becoming the most significant German defender of democracy in exile. Building on that legacy, the series brings together internationally-esteemed intellectuals, scientists, and artists to present ideas for the renewal of democracy in our own troubled times. Participants include political scientists Francis Fukuyama and Helmut Anheier, gender studies scholar Karen Tongson, philosopher Rainer Forst, sociologists Ananya Roy and Jutta Allmendinger, the German studies scholar Jan Philipp Reemtsma, historian Timothy Snyder, and many more.

The series is presented by the Thomas Mann House in cooperation with Deutschlandfunk, the Los Angeles Review of Books and Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Talks:

In his contribution, Irish writer and literary scholar Colm Tóibín notes: "Democracy is a great stabilizer. But sometimes a space opens by something that lives in the imagination, a sudden openness to change." Tóibín talks about political change and same-sex marriage equality in Ireland. He urges us to be vigilant — for miraculous transformations as well as for the darkest outcomes in democracies. Colm Tóibín is the author of, among others, “The Magician”, a novel based on the life of Thomas Mann, to be published in September 2021 by Simon & Schuster.

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"Can we build a civilization based on news and hypes?" asks media scholar Bernhard Poerksen after a conversation with former California Governor Jerry Brown. He points to the problem that we respond to threats like climate change, that require long-term thinking, in the mode of short-termism. In light of this malaise, he calls for a new "freedom to withdraw." Bernhard Poerksen is a professor of media studies at the University of Tübingen and a fellow at the Thomas Mann House Los Angeles. His book "Digital Fever: Taming the Big Business of Disinformation” is forthcoming from Palgrave Macmillan.

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Melissa Chan ask: Why did so many people lose faith in democracy? And when did the term “journalism” become associated with “fake news?” Journalist Melissa Chan addresses the threats to democracies around the globe and the problem of “stolen words”: How could it happen that autocracies and populists hijacked and changed the meanings of a democratic vocabulary? In her address, Chan explores what we can do to stop these “aggressive attempts to rewrite the narrative“ of democratic values.

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Jody David Armour, author and law professor, raises the question of effective political communication. Should Black Lives Matter activists soften their political messages to appeal to a majority of Americans? What oppositions did civil rights activists like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers face and in what ways can they be an inspiration today? Jody David Armour is the Roy P. Crocker Professor of Law at the University of Southern California.

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Helmut Anheier, former president and professor of sociology at the Hertie School in Berlin and a faculty member of UCLA´s Luskin School of Public Affairs, argues for a stronger link between economic and social policy. He recalls the sociologist Ralf Dahrendorf and postulates that social cohesion, political participation and a prosperous economy can only be reconciled if widespread inequalities are reduced and social mobility is promoted.

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Karen Tongson, cultural critic and Professor of English, Gender & Sexuality Studies at USC, talks about how an attacked democracy encourages us to look anew at the wholeness within it: “It is in our capacity to make manifest the chains of affiliation and resistance required to keep the remaining vestiges of this representative democracy intact until we dream something better into being.”

Rainer Forst, Professor of Political Theory and Philosophy at the Goethe University Frankfurt, states in Frankfurt's Paulskirche that the neglect of democracy is our own failure. His appeal: "Nobody will and can prevent it if we don't do it ourselves - with clear concepts and judgments and the courage to reason."

Sociologist Jutta Allmendiger, President of the WZB Berlin Social Science Center, claims in Frankfurt's Paulskirche: "To take responsibility for democracy also means to do everything to put women in a better position." "Let us care for our democracy," Allmendinger urges. This includes advocating for the participation of everyone in our society. For women, she states, this is still not sufficiently realized.

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Equal rights in the democratic process should be self-evident in liberal societies, claims American Studies scholar Heike Paul. She opposes the pseudo-feminism of the new political right. She is Chair of American Studies at the Friedrich–Alexander University Erlangen–Nuremberg.

In the struggle for democracy, a rhetoric of pathos is wrong, argues publicist Jan Philipp Reemtsma. "The only way we know of fighting inequality and discrimination or at least minimizing their occurrence and their consequences is to work within the framework of democracy." Reemtsma is Professor for Modern German Literature at the University of Hamburg.

Ananya Roy, Professor of Urban Planning at UCLA, warns: "The problem of the 21st century is still the problem of the color line." The sociologist calls for a "radical democracy," which should start from social movements and a revalorization of subaltern and subordinated knowledges.

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Timothy Snyder, Professor of History at Yale University, asks why democracy today has lost its future. He calls for a "politics of responsibility" to be regained and finds hope in social platforms and the revival of the welfare state.

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In the face of a global crisis of democracy, the political scientist Francis Fukuyama (Stanford University) emphasizes the current relevance of Thomas Mann's radio speeches. "It is important to realize that there is hope at the end of this process, that people do not want to live under tyrannical regimes. They do want to have the freedom to think, and write, and act."


Media partners for the series are Deutschlandfunk, Los Angeles Review of Books and Süddeutsche Zeitung.