Customer Review

4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Introduction to Democracy, 4 July 2014
This review is from: Democracy For Beginners (For Beginners (For Beginners)) (Paperback)
This is a good introduction to the history of democracy as a political concept. It traces the conditions surrounding Athenian ideas about democracy and gives a nod to Islamic perspectives and approval before launching into the political thought and thinkers of the 16th, 17th and 18th century on the European stage and in the United States around the framing of the Constitution. What is useful in this analysis is the author's drawing out the essential tensions in the associated political concepts of freedom and equality; whilst not mutually exclusive to one another, nevertheless they are shown to be counterbalanced, i.e. more freedom often ends up with more inequality and vice versa. The book then goes on to explore some of these tensions in practice as illustrated by various political frameworks, including the Progressives, the Libertarians and the Communitarians. This is followed by an analysis of more modern thinkers in the fields of political philosophy, theory and science.

The above historical part of the book (approximately first 80 per cent) is a clear and concise overview of the field. It would be useful for anyone generally interested in the subject seeking a broad overview; equally, a student beginning their studies of the concept would probably benefit from gaining an introduction to the concept of democracy and some of the key contributors to its development since the time of the Greeks. The student could effectively obtain an introduction from which to launch into deeper investigation of the topic and some of its greatest contributors, depending upon their level of study. However, I was disappointed that the author or publisher chose to leave out a reasonably detailed recommended reading list on the 'Greats' at the back of the book, although in fairness, he does provide the names of half a dozen or so books about democracy wherein one could no doubt find further references as well as searching on the web. Reference is made within the body of the text to the names of many of 'The Greats' and in some cases a relevant work; but a separate list would have been useful.

The final part of the book shifts focus to look at some of the ideas, thinking, contributors and practical attempts to develop democracy at the grass roots level in modern society. This was somewhat surprising in a book of this nature, but actually quite refreshing, since it stepped beyond the more conventional historical overview outlined above to provide the reader with ideas and examples of attempts to reconcile some of the shortcomings of the democratic process in a Web 2.0 world. When one checks that the author, Robert Cavalier is billed (2014) on the book cover as being co-Director of Southwestern Pennsylvania Program for Deliberative Democracy then it is apparent that Cavalier speaks from experience.

Given his professional position in the Deliberative Democracy movement, then Cavalier clearly has a passion for his subject; at the same time, despite his vested interest, the author is pragmatic about recognising the shortfalls of democracy. However, the historical part of the book makes clear that none of its proponents argue for it being a perfect solution, but as quoted, the words of the late British Prime Minister and historian, Winston Churchill probably sums up the position best of all, when he said, "Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

Anyone interested to understand better the arguments for and against a democratic form of government versus other varieties such as monarchy, aristocracy, oligarchy, tyranny and others will find this books provides a clear and balanced presentation of them at an introductory level. Furthermore, the style of writing flows easily without degenerating into an overly simplistic level of analysis found in some introductory beginners' texts. A great springboard for further reading and learning about the subject and with just over 100 pages, it can easily be given a cursory read in a few hours.
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