The Jefferson Imperative at Brookings

Today, Brookings launched a record-breaking $600 million fundraising campaign to celebrate its centenary in 2016 and to build its capacity to focus on the great public policy challenges of our time. As a part of the Second Century Campaign, Brookings is also launching the Jefferson Imperative—a commitment to help engage citizens in the governance of their nations and their world.

Thomas Jefferson in particular believed that self-governance requires active participation by the people. An imperative of healthy democracy, Jefferson often said, is a body politic made up of well-informed, engaged, and empowered citizens, not least because they are often the source of the best ideas about how they should be governed.

I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness. — Thomas Jefferson to George Wythe, August 1786


By “diffusion of knowledge,” Jefferson meant fact-based information, rationally analyzed, and filtered through civil discourse to form the basis of sound policy. Through this effort, Brookings will play a more active—and interactive—role in civic education and engagement.

Since its founding nearly a hundred years ago, much of Brookings’s impact on government has been achieved through an ongoing conversation between our scholars and policymakers—initially in Washington, more recently around the country and the world. The Jefferson Imperative will take our efforts to the next level by broadening our outreach to include citizens that governments serve, stepping up our contribution to their understanding of public affairs, and incorporating their views into our research and recommendations.

The Second Century Campaign kicked off with a public event at the Brookings Institution with appearances from Brookings President Strobe Talbott; Brookings Chairman and former Goldman Sachs Co-CEO John L. Thornton; and Glenn Hutchins, Brookings vice chair, Second Century Campaign chair and co-founder of Silver Lake Partners. 

“Investing in Brookings is investing in excellence—the best people coming up with the best ideas in service of our nation and our world,” said Thornton. “In the next 100 years, as citizens at home and around the world take more responsibility in shaping public policy, Brookings seeks to rise to the challenge that Thomas Jefferson put before us: to empower globally fluent citizens with knowledge.”

Brookings started the first phase of the Jefferson Imperative with several key projects, including the Brookings Essay, and over the course of the next three years Brookings will focus on diffusing, as Jefferson said, “knowledge among the people.”

Tracy Viselli contributed to this post.