Technology, Education, and the Future of Constitutional Democracy

Drawing upon my analysis in ACADEMIA NEXT and UNIVERSITIES ON FIRE, I explore how technology, demographic change, and the climate crisis may reshape higher education and democratic citizenship. While technology can enable democratic practices, recent events show that the internet follows prior media in being used for antidemocratic purposes. Similarly, humanity's response to the climate emergency may involve widespread democratic action, including mass mobilization, yet it can also become a justification for authoritarian rule. Academia stands at a nexus between digital technologies and these phenomena. This positions higher education in a key role for liberal democracy's survival. Given the close relationship between liberal education and liberal democracy, any disruption of the former will result in disruption of the latter. In this paper, I explore the implications of disrupted liberal education for constitutional democracy.

Constitutionalism and the Metropolis

Drawing and expanding upon my work in CITY, STATE, I discuss the implications of urbanization not only for the constitutional role of cities but also with regard to how 20th century constitutionalism must adjust to a world that is much more crowded and urbanized. The world is becoming bigger, denser, and more interconnected. Compared to prior moments in human civilization, people are living on top of one another both physically and virtually. As a result, scholars must reconsider liberal notions of liberty and government. Rights of speech, property, gun ownership, etc. cannot be exercised in a densely urban or technologically connected world in the way they once were when the nearest neighbor was a couple of kilometers away. This reconsideration is necessitated by nothing less than human freedom, ingenuity, and mobility.

Does Social Media Have a Democratic Future?

With each passing month, the drumbeat against social media and, especially, ‘Big Tech’, grows louder. While technology has kept much of the world spinning during a pandemic, increasing numbers of people believe that many social ills can be laid at its feet. The concerns have produced calls in numerous countries for regulation and control – up to and including dismantling the platforms altogether. Much of the debate, though, involves a striking amount of ‘magical thinking’ – hand-waving away the immense problems of scale, the considerable benefits of free digital services and the dangers of expecting non-state actors to prioritize the public good. Starting from the premise that liberal democracies require some modest agreement about the goals of public policy, I interrogate what ‘legitimate’ regulation of digital communication might look like and what might make that possible.

How Will Constitutional Democracy Appear in a Bigger, More Crowded, Interconnected World?

This paper analyzes the impact of constitutionally exogenous developments driven by science and technology on the relationship between citizens and government and discusses whether scholars must rearticulate or modernize their conceptions of individual rights, collective action, and the role government must play as referee among increasingly powerful, potentially anonymous private actors. Constitutionally exogenous factors such as technological development, climate change, demographic change, wealth creation and increasing economic inequality, and the COVID pandemic all have led to clashes among rights-bearing individuals whose exercise of liberty has an amplified impact on the well-being of others. As a result, governments must play a more powerful role in refereeing such clashes. This poses a challenge: how to empower the government without risking a shift to authoritarianism?