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Defending Politics: Why Democracy Matters in the 21st Century [Hardcover]

Matthew Flinders
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

26 April 2012
If the twentieth century witnessed the triumph of democracy then something appears to have gone seriously wrong. Citizens around the world have become distrustful of politicians, sceptical about democratic institutions, and disillusioned about the capacity of democratic politics to resolve pressing social concerns. This shift in global attitudes has been explored in a vast body of writing that examines the existence of 'disaffected democrats' and 'democratic deficits'. Defending Politics meets this contemporary pessimism about the political process head on. In doing so, it aims to cultivate a shift from the bland and fatalistic 'politics of pessimism' that appears to dominate public life towards a more buoyant and engaged 'politics of optimism'. Matthew Flinders makes a highly unfashionable but incredibly important argument of almost primitive simplicity: democratic politics delivers far more than most members of the public appear to acknowledge and understand. If more and more people are disappointed with what modern democratic politics delivers then is it possible that the fault lies with those who demand too much, fail to acknowledge the essence of democratic engagement and ignore the complexities of governing in the twentieth century rather than with democratic politics itself? Is it possible that the public in many advanced liberal democracies have become 'democratically decadent' in the sense that they take what democratic politics delivers for granted? Would politics be interpreted as failing a little less if we all spent a little less time emphasising our individual rights and a little more time reflecting on our responsibilities to society and future generations? Democratic politics remains 'a great and civilizing human activity...something to be valued almost as a pearl beyond price in the history of the human condition', as Bernard Crick stressed in his classic In Defence of Politics fifty years ago. But it is also a far more fragile system of governing than many people appear to realize. By returning to and updating Crick's arguments, this book provides an honest account of why democratic politics matters and why we need to reject the arguments of those who would turn their backs on 'mere politics' in favour of more authoritarian, populist or technocratic forms of governing. In rejecting fashionable fears about the 'end of politics' and daring to suggest that the public, the media, pressure groups, academics and politicians are all part of the problem as well as part of the cure, this book provides a fresh, provocative, and above all optimistic view of the achievements and future potential of democratic politics.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (26 April 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780199644421
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199644421
  • ASIN: 019964442X
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 14.6 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 433,635 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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a timely reflection on the challenges faced by democratic politics. Birgit Schippers, London School of Economics Review of Books This is a brave effort. It is lucid, learned and ... jargon-free. Above all, Flinders' message is one that cannot be too often restated. New Statesman

About the Author

Matthew Flinders is Professor of Parliamentary Government & Governance at the University of Sheffield. His book Delegated Governance and the British State (Oxford University Press, 2008) was awarded the W.J.M. Mackenzie Prize 2009 for the best book in political science published that year, and since then he has acted as an advisor to the Government of Thailand on behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and also held a Visiting Fellowship in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Sydney. A co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of British Politics (2009), he is also the author of over one hundred journal articles and book chapters, and his other books include Multi-Level Governance (2004), and Democratic Drift (2010), both also published by Oxford University Press.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Back-to-basics - and collective values. 28 Jan 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A good back-to-basics and uplifting read. At first I thought, as an insider, Flinders was thinking very much inside the box - but his analysis ends up much more radical than that, noting the need for, and absence of, collective values in public life. As someone who has recently re-engaged with democratic politics (the Green Party) I do sometimes wonder if this lumbering beast can really respond fast enough to the environmental and economic crises; but Flinders' prescription is a lot healthier than those who see the need for an authortiarian alternative.

If people in the Arab spring are prepared to die for democratic rights, why do we tend to be so cynical and sceptical. Answers are here.... And, having endured much on the Levison enquiry written by the very people it criticises, I enjoyed his trenchant observations on the fourth estate; with notable exceptions, mean-minded and exercising power without a shred of responsibility.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Defending the defensible 17 Aug 2013
By F Henwood TOP 500 REVIEWER
I read this book because I am in total sympathy with its overall sentiment. Politics are worth defending. We need politics because people cannot agree on what the good is. If well-motivated people are not to kill each other over this, as they are currently doing in Egypt, then we need politics to broker compromise so we can live with each others' differences in peace and to ensure that services are delivered fairly, without favouritism toward any one particular social group. In the UK, these aims are largely accomplished.

But instead of getting any credit, politicians are held to the highest possible standards, standards we don't apply to ourselves, given the credit for nothing and the blame for everything. The media is rightly to be blamed in large part for this but so are we. We expect too much of politicians, too little of ourselves. This creates a negative feedback loop with politicians being unable to be frank with the public because we don't want to hear the truth (about rationing in the NHS for example). But then politicians are slated because they won't level with us.

Having said this, I did find the defence offered a bit impoverished. I didn't seem to notice much in the way of concrete examples of the accomplishments of politics. For example, why is the United States, despite being a bitterly divided country, unlikely to suffer a civil war between the red and blue states, or succumb to a military coup (after all, men in uniform are held in far higher esteem by the US public than the men in suits)? Commentators, obsessed as they are with perceptions of crisis and gridlock in the US system, do not seem to ask why such possibilities are so remote.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Defending Politics Is a Timely Read in Aftermath of 2012 Elections 20 Dec 2012
By Willie Abrams - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A few days after the 2012 elections, I was so relieved to be rid of the insanity that passes for politics in America. I was looking forward to not reading about politics, listening to political ads that turned reality on its head or constituted outright lies in many instances. Then I stumbled across Matthew Flinders' Defending Politics. I am so addicted to books on history and politics that I couldn't resist reading reviews of the book. Because the author sounds so much like President Obama, I wanted to read the author for myself. I did and found a voice for so much of what I felt about the state of politics, the selfishness of voters and non-voting citizens, the cynicism of fellow citizens (some who vow never to vote again), the estreme partisanship of acquaintances and strangers (and my own uncomprising partisanship on occassions). After reading Defending Politics and discussing it with a colleague, I felt changed. I felt more enlightened. I felt like subordingating some of my concerns to those with less political power, to those with smaller political voices. I have recommended Defending Pollitics to other colleagues and will give it to many more as a gift this Christmas. So, go ahead--read it!
~~Willie Abrams, Columbia, Md.
4.0 out of 5 stars somebody ought to do something about the media 2 Nov 2012
By Bruce P. Barten - Published on
Politics has a longer history in England than in many parts of the world where the slate gets wiped clean. I would not expect Americans to be very sympathetic to anything that relates to the last 800 years. Most Americans never lived anywhere that long, and the people who lived here way back when had stories. Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection (Fulcrum Press) makes a cartoon that is as entertaining as journalists try to be. We are not a culture of deep thinkers. The truth is about a minute when I looked away.

I Looked Away.

She ran away from me to stay in her own life, just like in the song. I am not defending politics as it rides a cosmic pogo stick hopping back and forth in the popularity contest of pleasure addictions. This book is for readers who will not be surprised to see other books mentioned as if they mattered.
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