A timely and nuanced account of a simple word that has emerged triumphantly from history, crying, “Power to the people!”
Dunn (Political Theory/King’s College, Cambridge) comes at democracy from all angles, exploring its changing meaning and impact from its introduction in Athens by the nobleman Kleisthenes in 507 b.c. to its growing dominance in the Western world since 1945. The word itself comes from the Greek noun demokratia: power in the hands of the demos—the people as a whole. Democracy flourished briefly in Greece, where it became a basis for community of the rich and poor, then virtually disappeared for 2,000 years until its reemergence in the American and French revolutions of the 18th century. Drawing on writers from Thucydides to Tocqueville, the author examines democracy as a concept, as a form of government and as a political value, showing how our understanding of its meaning has changed with political expectations. Dunn’s explications are often a bit intricate, but readers will want to stay with him to find out how we got where we are today. No matter the precise form of government (presidential, parliamentary, etc.), democracies are always characterized by ever-widening representation and the shared belief that it must be the people who decide what is to be done. After gaining new saliency worldwide during the Cold War, democracy has become a political weapon in the post-9/11 era, with George W. Bush declaring in 2002, “The global expansion of democracy is the ultimate force in rolling back terrorism and tyranny.” The author questions whether democracy is the appropriate vehicle. Why, he asks, would giving bitter people more control over their rulers keep them from acting in support of terrorism? Expectations for globalization aside, Dunn says democracy now stands as the “political core of the civilization which the West offers to the rest of the world.”
Essential backstory on the news from Iraq.