DEMOCRACY FOR REALISTS by Christopher H. Achen
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Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government
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Why the theories used to rationalize our beliefs in democracy are broken beyond repair and must be replaced.

“Conventional thinking about democracy,” write Achen (Social Sciences and Politics/Princeton Univ.; co-author: The Statistical Analysis of Quasi-Experiments, 1987, etc.) and Bartels (Chair, Public Policy and Social Science/Vanderbilt Univ.; Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age, 2008, etc.), “has collapsed in the face of modern social-scientific research.” The authors argue that rising inequality is a byproduct of this breakdown in the way democracy functions, and we desperately need reforms. Unfortunately, the demanded improvements are often unattainable, functioning merely as empty sloganeering. Inequality and insider power have increased over the years, and the politicians who benefit continue to expand their gains. Reformers often substitute increased emotional intensity of their demands for effective political strategies. Neither politicians nor citizens fully understand why this is so or how it can be addressed. As the authors note, campaign finance reform, reductions in income inequality, and the strengthening of equal protections would all be beneficial. Unfortunately, politicians are often not influenced by the people's will. Achen and Bartels combine a long-standing tradition of political criticism with intensive research into population behavior and beliefs. They show that results are not based on individual choices and deliberations but on notions of group identities. Citizens lack the time, inclination, and means to seriously consider issues that should be important but are usually ignored, and partisan loyalties shape—and are shaped by—racial, ethnic, religious, and familial identities. “We believe,” write the authors, “that abandoning the folk theory of democracy is a prerequisite to both greater intellectual clarity and real political change. Too many democratic reformers have squandered their energy on misguided or quixotic ideas.”

A comprehensive analysis that lays the foundation for a discussion of necessary reforms and how they can be achieved.

Pub Date: May 1st, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-691-16944-6
Page count: 392pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2016


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