One of the world’s leading philosophers joins two experts in democratic innovation and civic engagement to offer a concise, compelling case for the importance of rebuilding democracy at the local level.
Today’s democracies suffer from two mutually reinforcing ills: a decline in their problem-solving capacities and a growing disconnect between the people and political elites. In communities harmed by loss of industry, jobs, and population, people often struggle to maintain a basic sense of citizen efficacy. The trouble is that local mechanisms of political action seem incapable of responding to new challenges. State and federal governments possess the means to act, but, disconnected from local concerns, they lack understanding of the community’s needs and affinities. Under such conditions citizens come to see themselves as victims of circumstances beyond their control. The resulting frustration has been crucial to the recent political success of destabilizing demagogues.
Charles Taylor, Patrizia Nanz, and Madeleine Beaubien Taylor argue that, to reverse this pattern and restore responsible government, we must reinvigorate democracy at the local level. Drawing on diverse examples of successful community building, from a shrinking Austrian village to a neglected section of San Diego, they demonstrate the importance of engaging citizens in states that are turning to the antidemocratic right. Community participation is the key: it is the means by which we learn what policies are needed, and it provides the political solidarity that enables and sustains reform. Reconstructing Democracy covers innovative projects and the citizens involved. They get to know one another, overcome the mutual suspicions generated by narrow partisanship, and form alliances. They begin to feel their power to solve problems.