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The State of Democratic Theory

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | The State of Democratic Theory.pdf | Language: ENGLISH

What should we expect from democracy, and how likely is it that democracies will live up to those expectations? In The State of Democratic Theory, Ian Shapiro offers a critical assessment of contemporary answers to these questions, lays out his distinctive alternative, and explores its implications for policy and political action.


Some accounts of democracy's purposes focus on aggregating preferences; others deal with collective deliberation in search of the common good. Shapiro reveals the shortcomings of both, arguing instead that democracy should be geared toward minimizing domination throughout society. He contends that Joseph Schumpeter's classic defense of competitive democracy is a useful starting point for achieving this purpose, but that it stands in need of radical supplementation--both with respect to its operation in national political institutions and in its extension to other forms of collective association. Shapiro's unusually wide-ranging discussion also deals with the conditions that make democracy's survival more and less likely, with the challenges presented by ethnic differences and claims for group rights, and with the relations between democracy and the distribution of income and wealth.


Ranging over politics, philosophy, constitutional law, economics, sociology, and psychology, this book is written in Shapiro's characteristic lucid style--a style that engages practitioners within the field while also opening up the debate to newcomers.

In this comprehensive and intelligent survey of democratic theory, Shapiro argues that the goal of democracy should not be to achieve a "common good," but rather to manage the "power relations to minimize domination." In presenting his evidence, Shapiro analyzes the political theories of dozens of philosophers and academics, from the celebrated 18th-century thinkers Rousseau and Madison to the more modern theorists Schumpeter and Foucault. His perspective is essentially pragmatic. Whether evaluating hierarchical relations, the exercise of governmental power or the position of the vulnerable, his primary aim is to assess how various theoretical frameworks ignore, or address, "the actual operation of democratic politics." What is most important, he believes, is to consider "what we should expect of democracy, and how those expectations might best be realized in practice." Such a down-to-earth approach is refreshing; however, Shapiro's dense, jargon-filled prose makes this book more appropriate for academics and specialists than for general readers. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. "With great insight and nuanced judgment, Shapiro weaves together three literatures-normative democratic theory, the empirical literature on democratization, and debates over the nature of power (and domination). And the book ranges even farther than that: The facility with which [Shapiro] incorporates economic theory, ethnographies of impoverished communities, and constitutional law is extraordinary."--Leonard C. Feldman, Perspectives on Politics"[Shapiro's] book is not only an authoritative source, but also exceptionally clear, compact, and well written."--George Klosko, Review of Politics"[Shapiro] is one of the leaders of an emerging literature that combines insights from political theory and empirical scholarship. In [this book], he deploys both to good effect. The book also couples impressive analytical sophistication with clarity of exposition that makes it accessible to lay readers."--Ilya Somin, Cato Journal

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Book details

  • PDF | 200 pages
  • Princeton University Press; First Edition edition (September 7, 2003)
  • English
  • 6
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Review Text

  • By Richard Warner on April 30, 2014

    This book is very clearly written and well-argued. It provides a good overview of democratic theory for those new to the subject, and, for experts and novices alike, it provides interesting and convincing critiques of existing theories. Shapiro's development of Schumpeter's theory of "competitive democracy" is well worth serious consideration even if one remains skeptical. The book's practical orientation, insisting on evaluating theories of democracy by how well they account for how actual democracies work is a breath of fresh air.

  • By Koo Tat Kee on February 24, 2009

    this book gets rid of the flavour of ideology and focuses on the actual workings of democracy in real life. The idea that democracy is simply a system of checks and balances is well developed by the author as he describes it as a system 'to avoid domination of one class or sector on others.'


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