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On Democracy (1998)

by Robert A. Dahl

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338456,083 (3.66)None
In this accessible work, the political theorist Robert A. Dahl provides a primer on democracy that clarifies what it is, why it is of value, how it works, and what challenges it will confront in the future.



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  maoozilla | Apr 2, 2019 |
Brief summary of democratic theory. Differences between the ideal and what we get in reality.

In Dahl's view, no government in the world has lived up to the Platonic ideal of Democracy, but some have made significant progress in both the number of democracies and the expansion of the electorate in the latter half of the 20th century. Talks about the legal and philosophical justifications of equality, of course given the fact that no two people are identical nor equal.

What factors constitute an actual democracy?

1) Elected officials
2) Free, fair, and frequent elections
3) Freedom of expression
4) Alternative sources of information
5) Associational autonomy
6) Inclusive citizenship

For our example, the United States, 2 may be modestly disputed owing to the massive financial requirements needed to conduct a successful political campaign, especially after the Citizens United case, and Factor 4 as well, owing to the monopolistic views of corporate media. Although there is progress on the latter, with alternative internet and media sources gaining traction against the old hegemonic TV stations.

By contrast, Putin's Russia is more non-democratic, with 2, 3, 4, and 5 under heavy restrictions.

A brief and informative summary of democracy studies. Although such statements may seem so obvious they are almost pablum to most Americans, they are still valuable concepts which earn much from further study. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
Dahl is at Yale at a top Ivy League Department. Issues of Democracy affect us all, this is a guy and a book to start one's learning. ( )
  wonderperson | Mar 29, 2013 |
For the most part this was pretty much what you'd expect --- a definition of democracy, a defence of the idea, and a description of various practical implementations.
My main disappointment is that the various practical implementations are given so little space, after so much space is devoted to the (IMHO far less interesting) defence of democracy.

The most interesting idea I learned from the book is that representative democracy is a fairly new (late 1700s) idea that is apparently not obvious, and that was considered (perhaps justifiably) to be one of the greatest inventions of the age.

Along similar lines was that it took the US constitutional congress two months to come up with the idea of an elected president to run the executive (as opposed to the British equivalent of a monarch); for example one idea floated was that of an elected monarch (ie, I guess, president-for-life).
It could certainly be argued that mistakes were made in this regard. The unitary US presidency, defined as both the (non-political) head of state and the (intensely political) head of government, and, in practice, also the head of a political party, does not seem to provide a mechanism in the system for a person generally respected, mostly apolitical, but able to act in moments of crisis in ways generally considered to be in the nation's best interests (for a recent example, consider the King of Thailand). Dahl does not discuss this sort of issue, but I think he should have.

Also interesting was a binning of democratic political systems into four main groups:
* European : parliament + proportional representation
* UK : parliament + first pass the post
* US : president + first pass the post (he doesn't like this)
* South American: president + proportional representation (he thinks this is really bad)
This is the sort of political "science" I want to learn more about, and I wish he'd concentrated more on this sort of thing. ( )
  name99 | Nov 13, 2006 |
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In this accessible work, the political theorist Robert A. Dahl provides a primer on democracy that clarifies what it is, why it is of value, how it works, and what challenges it will confront in the future.

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Dans une démarche éminemment didactique , Robert Dahl pose des questions essentielles et tente d'y répondre . Avec rigueur et clarté, à l'aide de nombreux encadrés explicitant le vocabulaire de la démocratie , il entraîne le lecteur dans une exploration systématique de la démocratie dans l'histoire et dans le monde.
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Yale University Press

2 editions of this book were published by Yale University Press.

Editions: 0300084552, 0300076274

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