The Civic Bargain: How Democracy Survives

Princeton Univ. Sept. 2023. 312p. ISBN 9780691218601. $29.95. POL SCI
Political historians Manville and Ober (coauthors, A Company of Citizens) have written much about the politics of ancient Greece. In this book, they apply some of that scholarship to the struggles of present-day democracies by scrutinizing four major Western historical democratic experiments: classical Athens; Republican Rome; Great Britain’s monarchy; and the founding of the United States. The authors argue that democracy’s future can be secured if citizens consider a “civil bargain, which depends on the practice of “good-faith compromise” and “civic friendship,” instead of a mindset to crush a nation’s enemies. The book’s analysis centers on the meaning of democracy, and it identifies traits that have promoted stability throughout history. The authors note seven conditions necessary for self-governance and highlight examples of bargaining and compromise in four case studies. They also point out the periodic failures and civil strife that forced some nations to adapt and prevail. Manville and Ober warn against the dangers of “hyperpolarized partisanship,” which often results in widespread disengagement from civil life. A need for better civic education is stressed as a solution.
VERDICT A guarded but optimistic vision for saving democracy. Best for readers who are concerned about the future of the U.S.
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