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After Tocqueville: the Promise and Failure of Democracy [Hardcover]

Chilton Williamson

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Book Description

15 Aug 2012

The End of Democracy?

"The fall of the Berlin Wall. The collapse of the Iron Curtain. The Orange Revolution. The Arab Spring."

The rush of events in recent decades seems to confirm that Alexis de Tocqueville was right: the future belongs to democracy. But take a closer look. The history of democracy since the 1830s, when Tocqueville wrote "Democracy in America," reveals a far more complicated picture. And the future, author Chilton Williamson Jr. demonstrates, appears rather unpromising for democratic institutions around the world.

The fall of communism sparked the popular notion that the spread of democracy was inevitable. "After Tocqueville" challenges this sunny notion. Various aspects of twenty-first-century life that Tocqueville could scarcely have imagined--political, economic, social, religious, intellectual, technological, environmental--militate against democracy, both in developing societies and in the supposedly democratic West.

This piercing, elegantly written book raises crucial questions about the future of democracy, including: Just what "is" democracy? As Williamson shows, definitions and concepts have become so varied that the term is effectively meaningless.How does a system whose institutions and habits arose in small-scale societies adapt to a postmodern, globalized world?After two centuries of democratization, are Western countries really more "free"?How can democracy endure when people care more about procuring what they want than about securing liberty?How does a political system survive when it is beset by problems that cannot be solved by political means?

Two decades ago, Francis Fukuyama famously pronounced the "end of history." History, it turns out, is still very much with us. Democracy (whatever it is) may not be in the decades and centuries to come.

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"A comprehensive and continually stimulating study of how we have entered a postdemocratic age which has subverted nearly everything that was valuable in American democracy as understood by Tocqueville." --DONALD W. LIVINGSTON, professor emeritus of philosophy, Emory University

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars PUSSY RIOT AND DEMOCRACY IN RUSSIA TODAY 25 Sep 2012
By Thomas J. Bieter - Published on
I recently read After Tocqueville by Chilton Williamson Jr., a writer whose articles I regularly read in the past when I subscribed to the Chronicles Magazine. [...] I remembered Williamson as a scholar and a sound thinker. Thus, I was excited to read his new book movements for "democracy." I am not disappointed and must recommend the book to all who are interested in the so calleI current movements for "democracy."

His book is a profound and fascinating blend of prophetic insights from Tocqueville on the advantages and disadvantages of democracy which correspond to observations and insights from some learned contemporary scholars, namely, Jacques Ellul and Bertrand de Jouvenel, with whose writings I am very familiar, and with some other profound writers on the idea and reality of democracy.

For example, here at pages 209-210 is Williamson on democracy, the Russian people, and Mr. Putin, today:

"Democrats looked for great things from Russia following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, though optimism was greater among Westerners than the Russian people, who have learned over centuries that pessimism is the highest form of realism. Two decades after the restoration of the historical Russia, democracy is no more realistic a prospect there than than the restoration of the Romanovs. If any people has autocracy embedded in its DNA, that people is the Russians. Culture is destiny, and Russian culture is finally not that of European Russia -- the Russia of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, and Solzhenitsyn -- but the Russia of the East. American Cold Warriors expected the Russian masses to accept "democracy" and "freedom" once the triumphant Western powers liberated them from the tyranny of the communist state. In fact, no such thing has happened, and no such thing is likely to happen....

In the postdemocratic world, a noisy minority will always be around to agitate on behalf of "freedom," "democracy," and "human rights," as it does in Russia today. [watch the Pussy Riot interview video below] Nevertheless, the Russian majority is, as the 2012 elections showed, prepared to settle for the corporate national authoritarian government that Vladimir Putin has fashioned during his two terms as president and his prime ministerial tenure under President Dmitry Medvedev -- and now is fashioning as president again. In Putin's Russia, where nostalgia for the Stalinist regime lingers, political and economic power are one and the same thing, as they were under the czars."

Finally, Democratic observers will recall that the Russian punk rock band, Pussy Riot, were recently convicted and imprisoned for protesting the rule of President Putin. In this fascinating current interview, we learn that one member will be transferred to one of the still-open prisons of the Gulag. We also are told that "there is no democracy in Russia today. [...]
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unfinished Analysis 5 Oct 2013
By H. Peter Nennhaus - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an exhaustive and erudite dissertation about democracy - its various definitions, its history, its relations to monarchy, aristocracy, socialism, liberty, civilization, modernity, and finally its present status and doubtful future durability. What I missed was a crisp enumeration of its numerous problems and possible ways of correcting and improving them. The present malfunction of the US government urgently demands an exploration of our constitution - why does it permit a president to govern without a legislative majority? - and of the usurpation of the will of the people by overpowering lobbies, special interests and Mammon, to name a few. The utter unsuitability of democracy for certain nations is all too obvious and therefore needs the choice of alternate, responsible governance. What, in fact, is responsible governance outside democracy? The wisdom inherent in democracy is vulnerable to periods of public turmoil and in so-called "failed states" and one expects a discussion of ways of reinforcing it - yes, reinforcing wisdom, common sense, and pragmatism in states of chaos. Democracy is faulty, we all know that, and the author says so. However I was disappointed to find a philosophical text peppered with pungent quotations from authors past and present, yet obscuring the lack of a disciplined, item-by-item analysis of democracy's deficiencies and potential methods of repair.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and Incisive 27 Jun 2014
By Gerard Lawrence Klunek - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Williamson is an extraordinarily fine writer with a profound sense of knowing. His prose is direct spare and elegant. His apercus' are thoughtful and provoking. As the former editor of National Review's literary or "Books" section; Williamson knows how to write clearly, with biting wit and keen perception. His thoughts on the inestimable Frenchmen rank alongside John Lukacs and Hugh Brogan-- whose biography of Tocqueville is peerless. Williamson surveys the rotted landscape of intellectual malfeasance that litters the rootless, barren wasteland that holds sway. His work(s) engage, as he devastatingly eviscerates the charlatans that turn Tocqueville's travails through the "prison-system" he carefully surveyed and the cave of puerile minds incapable of unlocking the nature of the American nation's political, moral and social 'institutions' their peculiarities and inexpressible brilliance. The sociological aspects that animated her success and failures with foresight and value. The virtue of both writers is the fearlessness and fortitude, not to mention perspicacity, a deep reading, and better still understanding of the messiness of history. Both evince an observance and appreciation of the habits, mores and customs that were once a bulwark against the catastrophic interpretations the polity yielded. Tocqueville (and Burke) admired the civic 'piety' which stood for something. Unfortunately, Lincoln's 'constitutional' claims had the effect of nationalizing and leveling these institutions for political 'hay' so he could establish a 'nation' unlike what the original founders had established: a nation of common law, and the Anglo-American regard for civil liberty not the rancid construction of Equality lacking basis in those individual and communal bonds that reclaimed prerogatives a decent and enduring society willfully, perilously omit,
5.0 out of 5 stars After Tocqueville is wonderful 26 Jun 2013
By Pen Name - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As a person interested in the future of liberty, I found Chilton Williamson's After Tocqueville: The Promise and Failure of Democracy arresting and chilling. Our so called democracy is in a lot more trouble than we think. It's very survival is on the line. A must read for anyone who is concerned with the health of our political system.
5.0 out of 5 stars A Political Masterpiece! 27 Mar 2013
By Steve L. - Published on
I subscribe to Chronicles Magazine, so I am familiar with Mr. Williamson's well-written articles, but this was the first time I have read one of his many books. We all have pre-conceived notions of what 'democracy' means to us and we all have our definitions, but Mr. Williamson explores democracy to the root and we discover through this work that the word today is basically meaningless since it has been pushed and pulled to fit existing ideologies (i.e. most Totalitarian countries have 'Democratic' in their official title). Mr. Williamson also explores how democracy, that was created for small-scale societies, can fit into our globalized world. After national independence movements, the Revolutions of 1848, and several World Wars, are today's Western countries more politically 'free' than they were 200 years ago? Just because one lives in a 'democratic' country does not mean that one enjoy's liberty. Remember, Hitler (and many other Totalitarian regimes) came to power by using democratic means. Mr. Williamson's book reminds me of the famous quote by Ben Franklin, "Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote." If you are a "well-armed lamb," you will thoroughly enjoy this book!
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