The Many Questions of Democracy

Does more education lead to a better democracy? And how do you build a stable democracy? These were some of the questions raised at the second international conference of the Research Program on Democracy.

From the Round table discussions on Johan P. Olsens latest book ‘Governing Through Institution Building’ (Photo: Sindre Hervig, ARENA)

Democratisation and higher education

The conference kicked off with an open plenary session on the subject democratization and higher education, led by Prof. Bjørn Erik Rasch. Vice-principal Inga Bostad opened the session and focused on the tight connection between democracy and education.

History Professor John Peter Collett presented the story of the high-political game in Denmark-Norway and the establishment of Det Kongelige Fredriks University of Christiania in 1811. The University was in this period part of the struggle between competing political institutions.

Professor Josè Antonio Cheibub from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign presented the results of a comparative study on the relationship between education and democratization. His conclusion was that education is not required to sustain a democracy, but it may have an effect in the transition from an authoritarian regime to a democracy.

Åse Gornitzka commented on Professors Collett and Cheibub. (Photo: Sindre Hervig, ARENA)

Professor Åse Gornitzka from ARENA commented that it would be interesting to focus on how higher education could contribute to a sustainable democracy because a University contributes to the establishment of a competent state administration, as was the case in Norway after 1814.

Typical European?

Friday the 14th January an open round-table conference on Johan P. Olsen’s latest book 'Governing through Institution Building' was held. Chairman Erik Oddvar Eriksen opened the session, stating that this book brought up fundamental questions on what constitutes a stable political system and what students of politics can learn from the European experiment.

Professor Emeritus Johan P. Olsen pointed out that this book was a sort of summing up of his thoughts on the subject through a 40 year long career, not just a book about the EU.

Johan P. Olsen presented his book 'Governing through Institutions Building' (Photo: Sindre Hervig, ARENA)

Nonetheless the development in Europe is important, as it can exemplify how political institutions function in periods characterized by rapid changes.

Professor Phillipe Schmitter from the European University Institute in Firenze thought the book to be convincing. As a theoretician Olsen draws on the American tradition, but he has also kept the European, or rather Nordic, perception on political institutions. He also commented that as a good academic should, Johan P. Olsen raised more questions than he did answer.

Professor Inger Johanne Sand from the Institute on public law commented that theories on political institutions could be strengthened by focusing the legal basis of the institutions. She thought that an inter-disciplinary approach would help to explain institutional change.

By Sindre Hervig, Communications officer
Published Mar. 28, 2011 1:58 PM - Last modified Oct. 16, 2013 10:18 AM