Can Democracy Work? : A Short History of a Radical Idea, from Ancient Athens to Our World
by Miller, James

Prelude: What is Democracy?3(16)
The riddle posed, and some answers explored, in five historical essays
One A Closed Community of Self-Governing Citizens
The strangeness of Greek democracy
Solon sets Athens on a path toward aristocratic self-rule
The Athenian uprising of 508 B.C.
Cleisthenes extends political power to ordinary citizens
The use of political lotteries, rather than elections, to select officers in Athens
The first appearance of the word demokratia
Excluding others: Athenian autochthony
Pericles as exemplary demagogue
Thucydides describes the Athenian democracy at war
Plato's critique of democracy: knowledge vs. opinion
The resilience of Athenian democracy, and Hannah Arendt's idealized view of it
How Athenian democracy actually worked in the fourth century B.C.
Classical democracy in decay and eclipse
The sublime value of unity, and the martial virtues as constitutive of the ideal democratic citizen
Two A Revolutionary Assertion of Popular Sovereignty
Radical democrats seize power in Paris
Republican thought, from Polybius to Rousseau
The French Revolution, from the fall of the Bastille to the fall of the monarchy
The journee of August 10, 1792
A carnival of atrocities
First calls for a democratic constitution
Condorcet in the French Convention
Drafting the world's first democratic constitution
Robespierre, Marat, and the debate over Condorcet's democratic constitution
The Terror, and fresh doubts about the wisdom of direct democracy
The appearance of a new idea, "representative democracy"
The retreat of democratic ideals in France
The human toll
Three A Commercial Republic of Free Individuals
American distrust of popular passions; the tempering influence of commerce in eighteenth-century America
1776: Thomas Paine, Common Sense, and the Declaration of Independence
The ambiguous place of democracy in America during the revolutionary era
Modern democracy from France to America: the democratic-republican societies of the 1790s
The American dream of a commercial democracy
America's first great demagogue, Andrew Jackson
Tocqueville celebrates the Fourth of July in Albany, New York, 1831
Tocqueville on democracy as an egalitarian form of life
The strange insurrection over the right to vote in Rhode Island, 1842
Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and the American struggle over the franchise
Demotic culture in America: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, minstrelsy
Walt Whitman's Democratic Vistas and the fantasy of a democracy still to come
Four A Struggle For Political and Social Equality
The Chartists and the London Democratic Association; the first Chartist Convention and first Chartist petition, 1839
Karl Marx's ambivalence about democracy; communism as the realization of individual freedom and social equality
Conflict as the paradoxical essence of nascent modern democratic societies
Mazzini and his democratic faith in cosmopolitan nationalism
The Paris Commune of 1871
The Commune as revolutionary icon
The rise of mass political parties; the case of the German Social Democratic Party
The Russian general strike of 1905 and the St. Petersburg soviet
Rosa Luxemburg on revolutionary self-government
Robert Michels and Max Weber debate democracy vs. domination as the key categories for modern social thought; the "iron law of oligarchy"
Disenchanted democracy at the dawn of the twentieth century
Five A Hall of Mirrors
What Woodrow Wilson meant by democracy in proposing a world "made safe for democracy"; his 1885 manuscript "The Modern Democratic State"
Wilson as president; the Great War as a crusade to promote liberal democracy
Russia in revolution
The improvisatory democracy of the Petrograd soviet
Lenin and the Bolsheviks seize power through Russia's Soviets
Existential conflict over the meaning of democracy: Wilsonian liberalism vs. Leninist communism; the Versailles Peace Treaty and the League of Nations
The Guild Socialism of G.D.H. Cole: a vision of democratic socialism for an industrial society
Walter Lippmann on the psychological limits to an informed public
John Dewey and the persistence of the democratic faith
Edward Bernays and the value of propaganda
George Gallup and the rise of survey research and public opinion polling
Joseph Schumpeter on democracy as "rule of the politician"
The cruel game of modern politics: sham democracies vs. democracy as a universal ideal, solemnized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948
Manhattan, January 2017, protesting the election of Donald Trump: "This is what democracy looks like"; but a democratic process also elected President Trump
When President Barack Obama said, "That's not who we are," who are "we"?
"There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide"
Global democratization from an elite perspective: the life and times of Samuel P. Huntington
"Democracy is in the streets": the return of participatory democracy in 2011; Occupy Wall Street
Problems with the direct democratic program of the postwar global left
Protecting pluralism in a framework of liberal rights the only viable approach to realizing a modern democracy
Condoleezza Rice keeps the American faith: exporting democracy at gunpoint
Measuring the advance and retreat of democracy worldwide as a form of government: the Freedom House index, The Economist's Democracy Index, and the United Nations Human Development Index
Challenges to democracy today as an ideology and ideal
Vaclav Havel on the dangers of political demoralization faced with the challenges of self-government
Upholding Abraham Lincoln's conception of democratic hope
Selected Bibliography and Suggestions For Further Reading283(4)

Presents a history of democracy explaining how it has become history's most widely accepted political system in spite of conflicting interpretations, war, and corruption.

James Miller is a professor of politics and liberal studies at the New School for Social Research. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Examined Lives: From Socrates to Nietzsche; Flowers in the Dustbin: The Rise of Rock and Roll, 1947-1977; and Democracy Is in the Streets: From Port Huron to the Siege of Chicago.

The meaning of democracy has changed dramatically throughout history. With autocratic leaders emerging in so-called democratic nations, Miller (Political Science/New School; Eminent Lives: From Socrates to Nietzsche, 2011, etc.) investigates the slippery term "democracy" and the "inherently unstable" democratic project. "If both North Korea and the United States consider themselves democratic," writes the author, and if all manner of politicians claim "to embody the will of the people—then what, in practice, can the idea of democracy possibly mean?" In response to this vexing question, Miller offers an informative historical overview of democratic efforts, from ancient Greece to contemporary times, including revolutions in France (1792) and America (1776), 19th-century socialist uprisings in Europe, the early-20th-century revolution in Russia, and current populist movements. Although Athens has been acclaimed as the birthplace of democracy, the author counters that assu mption: While a lottery system insured wide participation in government, women and slaves were excluded; moreover, throughout Greece, most cities were aristocracies or oligarchies. Many revolutions enacted to promote democracy—the French Revolution, the Paris Commune, and the British Chartist movement—ended in defeat and bloodshed, tainting the idea of democracy as ill-advised, creating "a new kind of tyranny, a collective tyranny of the majority" who were largely uninformed and easily swayed by inflammatory rhetoric. The term became "widely associated with the danger of mob rule" and anarchy. America's Founding Fathers did not think of themselves as democrats, believing "the election of representatives to be preferable to, and a necessary check on, the unruly excesses of a purely direct democracy." Not until the presidential campaign of 1800 did Thomas Jefferson bring the term democracy into political discourse, conflating its usage with "fealty to the Constitut i on." Miller is hopeful that even if democracy is threatened by political propagandists disseminating lies and creating confusion, democratic ideals and liberal principles will persist as long as democracy functions "as a shared faith." A revealing examination of the successes and perils of popular participation in government. Copyright Kirkus 2018 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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