Can Democracy Work? A Short History of a Radical Idea from Ancient Athens to Our World

Farrar. Sept. 2018. 320p. notes. index. ISBN 9780374137649. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780374717247. HIST
Miller (Examined Lives: From Socrates to Nietzsche) argues that a standard definition of democracy does not exist, as the word has been used to describe both representative political systems and dictatorships. He looks at several democratic systems and movements to determine their nature and effectiveness, starting with ancient Athens to the French, American, and Russian Revolutions and ending with governments of the present day. In each example, Miller considers the nature of public participation and the institutions that support the democracy. As Miller admits, the examples are Eurocentric and do not represent a comprehensive survey of democratic movements. Detailed background information is omitted by necessity, which could confuse readers less familiar with the historical events described. Miller also discusses prominent democratic and social theorists Karl Marx, Cleisthenes, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Samuel Huntington, and ends by speculating on improvements that would make democracy adhere closer to their ideals.
VERDICT A thoughtful but sometimes dense exploration of Western democracy. Recommended for readers interested in political systems.
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