Three leading thinkers analyze the erosion of democracy’s social foundations and call for a movement to reduce inequality, strengthen inclusive solidarity, empower citizens, and reclaim pursuit of the public good.
Democracy is in trouble. Populism is a common scapegoat but not the root cause. More basic are social and economic transformations eroding the foundations of democracy, ruling elites trying to lock in their own privilege, and cultural perversions like making individualistic freedom the enemy of democracy’s other crucial ideals of equality and solidarity. In Degenerations of Democracy three of our most prominent intellectuals investigate democracy gone awry, locate our points of fracture, and suggest paths to democratic renewal.
In Charles Taylor’s phrase, democracy is a process, not an end state. Taylor documents creeping disempowerment of citizens, failures of inclusion, and widespread efforts to suppress democratic participation, and he calls for renewing community. Craig Calhoun explores the impact of disruption, inequality, and transformation in democracy’s social foundations. He reminds us that democracies depend on republican constitutions as well as popular will, and that solidarity and voice must be achieved at large scales as well as locally.
Taylor and Calhoun together examine how ideals like meritocracy and authenticity have become problems for equality and solidarity, the need for stronger articulation of the idea of public good, and the challenges of thinking big without always thinking centralization.
Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar points out that even well-designed institutions will not integrate everyone, and inequality and precarity make matters worse. He calls for democracies to be prepared for violence and disorder at their margins—and to treat them with justice, not oppression.
The authors call for bold action building on projects like Black Lives Matter and the Green New Deal. Policy is not enough to save democracy; it will take movements.
Many scholars have traced the crisis of Western liberal democracy to the rise of authoritarian and populist leaders. Three distinguished theorists argue that the problems run deeper…Wealth inequality and economic stagnation have exacerbated political divisions, but the bigger problem is the fraying of the civic solidarity that knits citizens together across lines of difference.
[The authors] set out to dissect in detail the long-term degenerations of the democratic structures that have occurred in three major democratic countries: the United States, Canada and India…Stimulating and refreshing.
Democracies around the world are in crisis. This important book by three social theorists…analyzes the underlying causes of these interrelated crises, focusing mostly on the United States, Europe, and India…At stake are the quality of public life, social institutions, and, in many cases, people’s lives.
Written by three world-class thinkers, the book provides a fresh and well-argued diagnosis of what must be done to save democracy from itself. No other book can offer something remotely similar to what this book has to offer in terms of historical detail, conceptual argument, moral outlook, and political acuity.
Democracy in the twenty-first century is degenerating from within rather than being attacked externally as was totalitarianism. We consequently need to reinvent it, not just preserve it. This book defines the task ahead of us. Written by three key figures of political philosophy and social theory, it makes a conceptually powerful contribution to the rebuilding of democracy at a time when the sovereignty of the people and the promise of equality are understood in a trivializing way by populist governments and neoliberal regimes.
Questions about what ails democracy today get a new lease on life in this captivating book. Calhoun, Gaonkar, and Taylor blend their voices well to produce a series of deep and insightful reflections remarkable for their combination of lucid prose, critical diagnoses, reasoned optimism, and perspectives that are strikingly fresh. A must-read for all students of contemporary politics.
- 368 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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