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Nation of Devils: Democratic Leadership and…

Nation of Devils: Democratic Leadership and the Problem of Obedience

by Stein Ringen

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Politics is an inside affair even in democratic societies. The only persons who really know how decisions and compromises are reached are the ones who make them. But even if politicians may write candidly in their political memoirs, they often lack the perspective to see their actions in a broader context, set apart from the personages and particular interests they happened to work with during their tenure.

In the absence of philosopher-presidents who could explain how democracy really works, the author of this book seems to be a good substitute. He attempts to explain, in general but simple terms, why democratic rulership sometimes works well but often badly. He emphasizes the limitations that prime ministers and presidents face in their jobs and the difficulty of getting other representatives, citizens and civil servants to obey them. This practical approach is refreshingly different from abstract political theorizing which assumes that all power is efficacious.

In addition to being a practical critique of political theory, this book is also a very critical analysis of British and American democracy. Towards the end of the book the author focuses more and more on how these two democracies could be made to work better. The author's viewpoint is reasonably interesting even for a reader like myself, with no personal interest in either of these two countries. But I think the author could have utilized his earlier analysis of obedience a bit more in this latter part of the book. In any case I will surely be reading this book again when I begin to feel saturated with abstract theory.
  thcson | Sep 3, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 030019319X, Hardcover)

Oxford University political theorist Stein Ringen offers a thought-provoking meditation on the art of democratic rule: how does a government persuade the people to accept its authority? Every government must make unpopular demands of its citizens, from levying taxes to enforcing laws and monitoring compliance to regulations. The challenge, Ringen argues, is that power is not enough; the populace must also be willing to be led. Ringen addresses this political conundrum unabashedly, using the United States and Britain as his prime examples, providing sharp opinions and cogent analyses on how the culture of national obedience is created and nurtured. He explores the paths leaders must choose if they wish to govern by authority rather than power, or, as the philosopher Immanuel Kant put it, to “maintain order in a nation of devils.”

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:15 -0400)

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