Fiscal Year 2020
Brown University Financial Report

Political Theory Project

The Political Theory Project is transforming political discourse by diving beneath easy ideological labels and encouraging debate between brilliant minds from across the political spectrum.

In a time of extreme political polarization in the U.S. and beyond, Brown’s Political Theory Project (PTP) is transforming the nature of political discourse and inquiry both on campus and across academia.

Established in 2003, the project unites faculty from political science, economics, philosophy and other disciplines to galvanize the study of ideas and institutions that make societies more free, prosperous and fair.

Critical to this mission is engaging undergraduate students and faculty alike in a free and open exchange of ideas and perspectives through coursework, research opportunities and campus forums that give students the ability to interact directly with prominent international voices representing a wide diversity of viewpoints.

photo montage of Economist Paul Krugman and psychologist Steven Pinker
At a 2019 Janus Forum event titled “Is Humanity Progressing?” there was ostensibly one question of the hour. But the discussion, hosted by the Political Theory Project, was more wide-ranging than its title suggested. Economist Paul Krugman and psychologist Steven Pinker addressed pivotal moments of progress and regression in history, the potentially fatal effects of climate change, the trajectory of the world economy and more.

PTP faculty carry the project’s mission into their own work, which often has far-reaching impact. Director John Tomasi, a professor of political science at Brown, has successfully translated theory into action in Chile, where his consultations with the country’s senior elected leaders have galvanized national policy changes. After reading Tomasi’s book “Free Market Fairness,” which introduces the idea that societies can prosper by incorporating ideas of both social justice and private economic freedom, members of Sebastián Piñera’s 2017 presidential campaign reached out to Tomasi to discuss implementing his ideas on the ground in Chile. Piñera, now president, has since met regularly with Tomasi to create a new political model based on the core tenets outlined in “Free Market Fairness,” which could bring more prosperity and equality to the country.

At the heart of the PTP is its Janus Forum Lecture Series, which is aimed at fueling and influencing important national and international discussions. Drawing from its namesake, the Roman god with two faces, the series asks two established researchers with alternative perspectives to present their research in direct comparison to one another.

Recent Janus Forum talks have featured Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Heather Ann Thompson, who revealed new details about the ruthless retaliation Attica Prison residents faced following their uprising in 1971; former Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, who discussed the recent trajectory of American politics and conservative thought; and economist Paul Krugman and Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, who debated whether humanity is advancing or regressing. In past years, the PTP has hosted debates between capitalists and socialists, between gun champions and gun control advocates, and between those who argued for and against restricting immigration to the U.S.

Brown seniors Daniel Newman and Peter Lees discussing a book
One semester after completing the Political Theory Project course Bleeding Heart Libertarianism, Brown seniors Daniel Newman and Peter Lees spent summer 2019 working with the project’s director, Professor of Political Science John Tomasi, in Chile. The two students had a unique chance to apply the political philosophies they had studied in class to conditions on the ground in Santiago, where political leaders employ a mix of social justice ideas and free market ideas in their policymaking.

Brown students, inquisitive and independent by nature, thrive in the intellectually open environments the PTP fosters, from debates in large auditoriums to classes in intimate discussion rooms. Each academic year, students engage with PTP-affiliated faculty in courses such as Capitalism: For and Against; Prosperity: The Ethics and Economics of Wealth Creation; and Liberty and Incarceration. Students also have the opportunity to join the project’s Philosophy, Politics and Economics Honors Society, in which they participate in guided reading and discussion groups to better understand how to create societies in which citizens enjoy equal opportunities and flourish.

Courses and student activities offered by the PTP encourage responsible criticism of public institutions, paving the way for students to become leaders who draw on a wide spectrum of political thought to make a positive difference in the world, rather than defenders of inherited ideology.

Over the past five years, PTP has received more than $3.7 million in foundation support for research, programming and a postdoctoral fellowship. Future investment in PTP will allow the center to continue to present a range of intellectual and ideological perspectives to create new ways of thinking.

Additional Areas of Impact:

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