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Nation of Devils: Democracy and the Problem of Obedience Hardcover – 13 Sep 2013

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Nation of Devils: Democracy and the Problem of Obedience + The Confidence Trap: A History of Democracy in Crisis from World War I to the Present + Strategy: A History
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (13 Sept. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030019319X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300193190
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 16.5 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 791,729 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'This is a terrific book that I can imagine readers turning back to again and again. It is a major contribution to the literature of political science. One of Ringen's greatest accomplishments here is that he reminds readers why this field was interesting in the first place.' --Alan Wolfe, Boston College

'Nation of Devils crackles with dry epigrams. It reminds readers of how the supply-side of politics law and government is often neglected for the noisy demand-side that is the purview of voters and lobbyists.' --The Economist

About the Author

Stein Ringen is professor emeritus of sociology and social policy at Oxford University. He lives in London.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

By Namaa Al Mahdi on 23 Sept. 2014
Format: Hardcover
Great read
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 2 reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Call for a Fifth Political Revolution to Untie the ‘Washington Bind’ 29 Dec. 2013
By Serge J. Van Steenkiste - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Stein Ringen systematically tackles the twin themes of (effective) governance and obedience in both Britain and the United States with some forays into Scandinavia and South Korea. Mr. Ringen bluntly states that in functioning democracies, governments give orders, i.e., commands (taxes, transfers, and regulations) and signals (informing, educating, inspiring, and leading), and citizens must obey these orders to avoid chaos. Self-rule is a delusion.

Furthermore, the author stresses that effective governance not only results from power, but also from authority and leadership driven by both legitimacy and trust. Therefore, effective governments have to excel at the art of persuasion and mobilization to deflect the others from unleashing their counter-interests and counter-powers to frustrate them. The ‘others’ include the governors’ inner circle, civil service, opposition, media, organized interests, pressure groups, think tanks, and citizenry. In other words, effective governors have to influence these constituencies towards wanting to implement their orders.

Once in power, democratic governments have to avoid mistakes that they are notoriously prone to making. Mr. Ringen emphasizes that good will, dedication, or competence cannot be trusted. Good decision making depends on a good system of decision making in which decisions are checked and double-checked. The author shows that in Scandinavia the decision making process is usually deliberately cumbersome to produce more with less haste than in either Britain or the United States.

Mr. Ringen is particularly harsh in his judgment when it comes to the American democracy that he considers ‘fully dysfunctional.’ The author identifies four core dysfunctions in the American system:

1. Of the main constitutional powers, only the presidency works as planned. Congress is bereft of capacity to act due to the ‘vetocracy.’ The Supreme Court has taken on powers it should not have.
2. The outcome of the broken system of decision making is not only paralysis, but also the bad quality of the decisions that break through the paralysis. Taxation epitomizes this broken system.
3. The intrusion of private money into politics with the resulting breakdown of political equality and the distortion of power between the onstage and backstage areas of politics.
4. The thriving of a political culture which is distorted and inadequate in its defense of democratic values and principles.

Mr. Ringen concludes that the ‘fully dysfunctional’ American system has allowed a minority to confiscate the nation’s wealth and to destroy political equality while undermining the nation’s engine of growth.

To reform this ‘broken’ system, the author proposes the following steps:

1. The first four political revolutions in America have been inspired by presidents of great authority, i.e., Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan. The fifth political revolution that Mr. Ringen is calling for, would come from a transformative, ‘political entrepreneur’ president who is able and willing to engage with the risks which come with confronting a system he or she is part of.
2. The president would have to assemble a coalition of allies from America’s community of national foundations and charitable organizations to ignite a cultural revolution and drive it forward.
3. The president would appoint a series of presidential commissions to explore core aspects of the constitutional system, i.e., on Congress, the Supreme Court, taxation, how to pay for politics, and constitutional conventions. The presidential commission on constitutional conventions would be a super-commission that coordinates and interprets the work and outcomes from the other commissions. The members of these commissions would be respected citizens from academia, civil society, and the business community. The five commissions would look both at home and abroad for their inspiration. The studies of these commissions would then be socialized across the nation for comments and suggestions.

Mr. Ringen does not see any better way to untie what he calls the ‘Washington bind.’ Despite his pessimism, the author seems to be confident that these above-mentioned commissions could emulate the success achieved by the cumbersome apparatus of royal committees and super-committees that released the King James Bible four centuries ago.
1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Nation of Devils Democratic Leadership and the Problem of Obedience Prof. Stein Ringen 25 Feb. 2014
By Felipe Benavente Puga - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Taking the model of Machiavelli`s The Prince, RINGEN develops a modern, intelligent,workable and absolutely up-dated counselling scheme for any present democratic government to achieve efficiency.
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