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May 15, 2012

Dennis Thompson

Harvard Book Store is pleased to welcome the Alfred North Whitehead Professor of Political Philosophy at Harvard University DENNIS THOMPSON for a discussion of his new book, The Spirit of Compromise: Why Governing Demands It and Campaigning Undermines It.


If politics is the art of the possible, then compromise is the artistry of democracy. Unless one partisan ideology holds sway over all branches of government, compromise is necessary to govern for the benefit of all citizens. A rejection of compromise biases politics in favor of the status quo, even when the rejection risks crisis. Why then is compromise so difficult in American politics today? 

In The Spirit of Compromise, eminent political thinkers Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson connect the rejection of compromise to the domination of campaigning over governingthe permanent campaign—in American democracy today. They show that campaigning for political office calls for a mindset that blocks compromisestanding tenaciously on principle to mobilize voters and mistrusting opponents in order to defeat them. Good government calls for an opposite cluster of attitudes and argumentsthe compromising mindsetthat inclines politicians to adjust their principles and to respect their opponents. It is a mindset that helps politicians appreciate and take advantage of opportunities for desirable compromise. Calling for greater cooperation in contemporary politics, The Spirit of Compromise will interest all who care about whether their government leaders can work together.

About Author(s)

Dennis Thompson is a Professor of Public Policy at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the Alfred North Whitehead Professor of Political Philosophy in the Government Department in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and founding Director of Harvard's university-wide ethics program, now the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics. His books include: Just Elections: Creating a Fair Electoral Process in the United States; Restoring Responsibility: Ethics in Government, Business and Healthcare; Political Ethics and Public Office; and Ethics in Congress: From Individual to Institutional Corruption. He is also the author (jointly with Amy Gutmann) of Why Deliberative Democracy? and Democracy & Disagreement. Professor Thompson has served as a consultant to the Joint Ethics Committee of the South African Parliament, the American Medical Association, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and the Department of Health and Human Services