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Bad moons

Emotive flaws in a new study of democracy
by
November 2009, no. 316

The Life and Death of Democracy by John Keane

Simon & Schuster, $49.99 hb, 958 pp

Bad moons

Emotive flaws in a new study of democracy
by
November 2009, no. 316

How does one review a serious academic study of 950 pages that covers two thousand years of political history? In this case I shall be upfront and declare that I am only reviewing part of Keane’s thesis, and will leave it to historians to discuss the remainder of his book. If I concentrate on the last 300 pages, this is because they contain more than enough material for even the keenest reader, let alone a harassed reviewer.

The Life and Death of Democracy is divided into three distinct sections, which allows Keane to explore three models of democracy: assembly, representative and monitory. The first two will be familiar to anyone who has done an introductory course in political philosophy, and are typified by the Athenian and Westminster models. One of the strengths of this book is to point to the far greater variety of origins and forms taken by democracy than the standard Western accounts explore. These sections will be of particular use for students of both political theory and history, containing as they do a number of useful correctives to the myth of both Athenian and American claims for the uniqueness of their contribution to the development of democracy.

Dennis Altman reviews 'The Life and Death of Democracy' by John Keane

The Life and Death of Democracy

by John Keane

Simon & Schuster, $49.99 hb, 958 pp

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