In honor of its centennial anniversary, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University on Tuesday launched a yearlong speaker series that will look at how history from the past 100 years can help inform current public policies.
The series, "A Century of Ideas for a Free Society," builds upon the institution's mission and core values, including "individual, economic, and political freedom; private enterprise; and limited, effective representative government," the institution said on its website.
"This lecture series brings together Hoover fellows to discuss how the ideas and values that have undergirded the institution for 100 years remain crucial in understanding and formulating public policy in the 21st century," the institution said in an opening video played at the afternoon event.
Tuesday's panel titled, "One Hundred Years of Democracy and Foreign Policy," featured former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Milbank Family senior fellow Niall Ferguson and Hoover Institution senior fellow Stephen Krasner.
"The lecture is really intended to help us look at the state of democracy today, but of course there's a long history of the state of democracy and the Hoover Institution has had a central role, through the people who've been here, in really shaping the ideas that define a free society," Rice said in the video introduction.
Rice was both a participant and moderator of the discussion, leading the conversation with a history-related question for her fellow panelists who were asked to compare what she called "the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" — populism, nativism, protectionism and isolationism — between present times and 100 years ago during the President Woodrow Wilson era.
"Much of what you're talking about when you talk about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, populism and nativism, protectionism, I don't see that as fundamentally undemocratic," Ferguson said. "I think those are necessary checks; you might call it the backlash against globalization, which many ordinary Americans and Europeans felt was long overdue," he added, going on to say that fascism and communism are "much more dangerous" to democracy than populism.
Rice's questions to the panel covered a range of challenges democracy faces, including governing over diverse populations, identity politics and the overall breakdown of faith in democratic institutions and their efficiency.
Ferguson presented a fairly optimistic perspective on the state of democracy supported through data from the Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index, which showed roughly half of the world's population lives in democracies. "According to that series, 16 percent live in what they call hybrids — half democratic, half authoritarian — or illiberal democracies, and maybe a third are in authoritarian regimes. But when you look at the economics, which is another thing we try and do at Hoover, it's really striking that the democracies account for 74 percent of global gross domestic product," he said.
Krasner offered a slightly different point of view, saying there's a reason to be "worried" about the state of democracy in general. "We're not on kind of a teleological path. There's no natural way in which countries end up being democratic," he said. "It's true that the wealthy countries in the world are countries that have governments which are effective and constrained. Given that, I mean, one would think that democracy would sweep the world — that has not necessarily been the case," he said.
Although the discussion was serious in nature, at several points the panel received laughs from the audience, including after Rice pointed out that they should ignore Ferguson saying he was a "schoolboy in the 80s" during one of his responses and again after she asked him how the state of democracy is in Europe, to which he responded, "fine."
Following their hourlong conversation, the panelists took questions from the audience. The first came from an attendee who asked how U.S. values inform foreign policy, citing the country's relationship with Saudi Arabia compared to its relationship with Iran.
Rice responded, "The fact of the matter is the United States is not an NGO (nongovernmental organization), it has values but it also has interests and so when you're confronted with an ally or an ally that does not share your values, the hardest thing is to be true to your values and yet recognize that sometimes you have strategic interests that mean that you have to keep that relationship alive."
The second panel discussion in the Century of Ideas series is set for April 18, featuring John and Jean De Nault senior fellow Terry Anderson, Leonard and Shirley Ely senior fellow John Cogan, Hoover Institution senior fellow Lee Ohanian and former U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz along with Murdoch research fellow Peter Robinson as moderator.
For more information about the series go to hoover.org.
To watch a full video of Tuesday's discussion go to youtube.com.