A political scientist identifies six aspects about modern democracy that require examination and revision.
Chalmers, who has co-edited a number of books (The New Politics of Inequality: New Forms of Popular Representation in Latin America, 1997, etc.), presents the edited texts of his Leonard Hastings Schoff Memorial Lectures at Columbia in 2007, and his text retains the general structure, technique and tone of its original incarnation. Introductions, enumerations, repetitions, summaries and conclusions appear throughout. The author begins by identifying problems—even threats—to democracy, including inequality and corruption, then lists some conventional ways of dealing with them—new policies and revolutions of various sorts. He declares that a democracy must establish “political processes [that] lead to public welfare”—a point he continually reiterates. He then examines various models of representative institutions that have existed, and he devotes a major section to the concept of the “people” in a democracy—who’s included, who isn’t. He also explores the notion of “quasi-citizens,” people who are here but aren’t official citizens, and he urges their formal involvement. Next: how to connect the people to the decision-makers. Chalmers views what he calls “personal networks” as essential (though in need of control) and urges an emphasis on deliberation. He sees the Iraq invasion as a failure of deliberation. Finally, he discusses the necessity of multiple levels of decision-making. The author intends to identify problem areas, not to suggest anything more than a generic sort of solution (we “need to establish principles”), but he recognizes that traditional democracy must move more quickly in the digital age.
The rub of conventional writing against novel ideas produces enough friction for some intellectual fire.