“A masterly performance . . . the next time you hear the word democracy, reach for this book. If you want to think harder about democracy’s shortcomings and challenges, it is an excellent place to start.” The Economist
Atlantic Monthly Press
978-0-87113-931-3 • $24.00 • Cloth • July 2006
For the last twenty-five years, fostering democracy around the world has been a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy. Why is democracy so important today? Why should it hold such sway over the political speech of the modern world? What does its recent prominence really mean? Why does democracy, as both a word and an idea, linger so large in the current political imagination? Within the last three-quarters of a century, democracy has become the political core of the civilization that the West offers to the rest of the world. Now, as nascent democracies begin to flourish across the Middle East, we need to understand what democracy really is.
In Democracy: A History, John DunnEngland’s leading political theoristsets out to explain the extraordinary presence of democracy in today’s world. The story begins in Greece, where it began as an improvised remedy for a very local difficulty twenty-five hundred years ago. Athens gave democracy a name (demokratia) and worked out an elaborate, highly distinctive, and astonishingly thorough interpretation of the political conditions required to achieve it. However, democracy’s tenure was short-lived, flourishing briefly and then fading away almost everywhere for nearly two thousand years. Democracy then suddenly reappeared with the founding of the new American republic and amid the struggles of France’s Revolution. The word democrat suddenly became a partisan label and a badge of political honor, lending credibility to the idea of transforming human collective life, anywhere and everywhere, to fit the requirements of democracy that are so familiar to us today.