Margaret Levi’s conception of “an expanded community of fate” gained international recognition as the 2020 “Breakthrough of the Year” in the social sciences and humanities. The Falling Walls Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Berlin, selected ten “Breakthroughs” out of a pool of nearly 1000 nominations from 111 countries.
“This recognition is particularly meaningful to me because it acknowledges the work we have been doing at CASBS to create a new moral political economy that builds on and then sustains an expanded, inclusive and robust community of fate,” said Levi, director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford University.
The Falling Walls Foundation holds an annual conference to consider, “What are the next walls to fall in science and society?” The meeting coincides with the anniversary of the peaceful fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The foundation invited Levi to submit a video in which she begins to outline a framework for a new moral political economy and its expanded community of fate.
On November 9, Falling Walls announced Levi’s expanded community of fate as the Breakthrough of the Year in the social sciences and humanities category. The Breakthroughs in all 10 categories were revealed and celebrated in a Falling Walls Grand Finale that streamed online.
The Social Sciences and Humanities jury included Jutta Allmendinger, president of the Berlin Social Science Center and a 1996-97 CASBS fellow. Jury chair Shalini Randeria cited the merits of Levi’s contribution:
Margaret Levi’s brilliant project develops a framework to understand how innovative institutions could help individuals to recognize how their destinies are inextricably entangled with distant strangers. She shows us how to create a new political economy model, that promotes planetary well-being without losing sight of economic productivity and innovation. The jury is highly impressed by Levi’s project, which tears down the narrow walls of national solidarity and sovereignty, whilst advocating for a bold conception of Justice.
The project Randeria refers to is the CASBS program on “Creating a New Moral Political Economy.”
In 2018 Levi, with support from the Hewlett Foundation and in collaboration with a network of academics, journalists, civil society activists, technologists, and policy practitioners, launched the program with CASBS as network hub. Now in its third year, the moral political economy program has received additional support from the Ford Foundation and Berggruen Institute. In 2019, the program received funding from LinkedIn co-founder and entrepreneur Reid Hoffman, impressed by the program’s ability to generate innovative ideas and “untangle some very thorny problems and issues.”
Levi and coauthor John Ahlquist, a CASBS fellow in 2017-18 and current moral political economy program participant, introduced the term “expanded community of fate” in their 2013 book In the Interest of Others: Organizations and Social Activism (Princeton Univ. Press).
“I am thrilled that Falling Walls is honoring my longtime mentor, collaborator, and friend Margaret Levi for this breakthrough of the year,” said Ahlquist. “As Margaret and I defined it, a community of fate is more than simply ‘there, but for the grace of God, go I.’ It is a disposition, shared among some group, where I understand that the victories for those others are beneficial to me, while their challenges and defeats are mine as well.”
Margaret Levi continues to push her thinking on her breakthrough idea. In late March 2020, after much of the world had sheltered in lockdown due to the COVID pandemic but not yet adjusted to a new way of living under it, Levi, writing in Social Science Space, pointed to halting government responses mired in an outdated version of capitalism with presumptions that no longer apply. Though not what anyone would wish for, the pandemic presented an opportunity to recognize the limits of our current policies and rethink how to best protect workers and ensure more general well-being for all members of society.
In July, writing in Noema, a magazine published by the Berggruen Institute, Levi presented the most refined formulation to date of “An Expanded Community of Fate,” advancing it as “critical to the survival of humanity, extended human cooperation, and the development of societies in which people flourish.” In the piece she invokes the shared ethos of recent and emerging social movements in capitalist democracies as exemplars of community builders whose strength lies in creating networks of people across multiple boundaries to solve common problems.
According to Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, chair of CASBS’s board of directors and a Justice of the Supreme Court of California, “Margaret Levi’s pathbreaking work on the political economy of institutions, ethics, and morality has long been admired but never been more timely. To see her work honored again is terrific not only for CASBS, but for everyone engaged in continuing efforts to understand the moral and institutional foundations of our economics and politics.”
CASBS thanks the Falling Walls Foundation for permission to use the graphic. Copyright: Albrecht Gäbel, Falling Walls Foundation.
Written by Mike Gaetani
Read an expanded (yes, pun intended) version of this article here.