Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A new book on democracy

From the Wikipedia article on The Life and Death of Democracy by John Keane:
"The Life and Death of Democracy stresses that, understood simply as people governing themselves, democracy implied something that continues to have a radical bite: it supposed that humans could invent and use institutions specially designed to allow them to decide for themselves, as equals, a thought that may seem very common now but was extraordinarily innovative at its conception. Following this path, the book challenges the common view of democracy as a timeless fulfilment of our political destiny with built-in historical guarantees, emphasising that democracy is not a way of doing politics that has always been with us or will unquestionably be with us forever, but instead an evolving, adaptable concept of a rather frail nature, especially at times when there are signs of mounting disagreement about its meaning, its efficacy, and desirability.
Under the third part of Monitory Democracy, The Life and Death of Democracy addresses the viability of democracy in modern times and post-1945, where democracy becomes globally accepted as the political governing form par excellence but is also met with serious criticisms of inefficiency. The presence of new democratic institutions along with mutations of older ones on the national (public integrity commissions, judicial review procedures, parliaments for minorities, public interest litigation, citizens’ assemblies to name just a few) and international level (forums, summits, regional parliaments, human rights watch organisations, etc) is examined giving to this last part its title. John Keane considers monitory democracy to be the most complex form of democracy yet due to its intricate network of institutions and inner dynamics while its fruitful evolution is not taken for granted. On the contrary, this part explores the sustainability and irreversibility of this trend, traces its development and examines it against the background of past democratic experiences and future challenges. Democracy is not a done deal or something accomplished according to the book but still an unfinished experiment that “thrives on imperfection” [5]. For this reason, it advocates the imperative to think in entirely new and fresh ways about democracy’s virtues."

The author's Home Page has links to a number of reviews and here is a critical review via 3quarksdaily The democratic wish by John Gray.

There is also the problem of monitoring groups, think tanks etc being funded by powerful groups. This seems to have happened in the US (the books by Edward Berman and Jane Roelofs mentioned in an earlier post give some evidence)and there is a general feel in many comments in 'The Economist's view'(see comments in "Let A Hundred Theories Bloom") that regulators and elected officials have been captured by special interests. With many states having large police and military, which is at least powerful against its own citizens, it is not clear how the powerful special interest groups can be thrawted in a demacratic set up.
EPW has review of a book The State of India's Democracy edited by Sumit Ganguly and others.

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