There is no shortage of democracy, at least in name, and yet it is in crisis everywhere we look. From a cabal of thieving plutocrats in the White House to rising inequality and xenophobia worldwide, it is clear that democracy—specifically the principle of government by and for the people—is not living up to its promise.
In Democracy May Not Exist, but We'll Miss It When It's Gone, Astra Taylor shows that real democracy—fully inclusive and completely egalitarian—has in fact never existed. In a tone that is both philosophical and anecdotal, weaving together history, theory, the stories of individuals, and conversations with such leading thinkers as Cornel West, Danielle Allen, and Wendy Brown, Taylor invites us to re-examine the term. Is democracy a means or an end, a process or a set of desired outcomes? What if the those outcomes, whatever they may be—peace, prosperity, equality, liberty, an engaged citizenry—can be achieved by non-democratic means? Or if an election leads to a terrible outcome? If democracy means rule by the people, what does it mean to rule and who counts as the people?
The inherent paradoxes are too often unnamed and unrecognized. By teasing them out, Democracy May Not Exist, but We'll Miss It When It's Gone offers a better understanding of what is possible, what we want, and why democracy is so hard to realize.
"Astra Taylor will change how you think about democracy . . . She unpacks it, wrestles with it, with the question of who gets included and how . . . she excavates the invisible assumptions that have been bred into our idea of democracy . . . Taylor's work is alive to paradoxes, ambiguities, and hard questions that don't offer easy answers."—Ezra Klein, The Ezra Klein Show
"What is this thing called Democracy? Google the question and you will exceed one million hits. But for an honest and illuminating answer, read this book—every single word. Searching, lucid, visionary, Astra Taylor takes a deep oceanic dive into the history, meaning, uses, and promise of democracy—moving from Plato’s Greece to Syriza’s Greece, from the Global South to post-Communist East, from slavery to fascism, liberalism to neoliberalism, Occupy to the Commons. She knows what most political scientists don’t: that democracy is a promise unfulfilled, and in our strivings to achieve it nothing is guaranteed. But we can’t live without it."—Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination
"Astra Taylor is a rare public intellectual, utterly committed to asking humanity’s most profound questions yet entirely devoid of pretensions and compulsively readable. Now she plunges deep into the crisis that underlies so many others: the sorry state (and the exhilarating promise) of this thing called democracy. At once richly historical and immediately relevant, this wise, lucid and unflinchingly honest book deserves to be at the center of public debate."—Naomi Klein, author of No Is Not Enough
“Moths never reach the moon, but they navigate by it; we humans may never reach democracy, Astra Taylor tells us, but we navigate by its ideals. This is a beautiful, revelatory book about ideas and how they matter in everyday life, by the only writer who could herself navigate so gracefully among factory workers, contemporary economics, and ancient Athenian history."—Rebecca Solnit, author of Men Explain Things to Me
"We live in an age that demands that we rethink democracy from the roots—and teach ourselves to think again as citizens. Smart and engaging, Astra Taylor’s Democracy May Not Exist makes a formidable contribution to meeting those pressing generational challenges."—Danielle Allen, author of Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality
"A brilliant, deeply learned discourse on democracy, equality, and how the second might save the first, by one of the most incisive thinkers on participatory politics today."—Molly Crabapple, author of Brothers of the Gun
"What a lot of trouble democracy has been! Over the years it’s been hijacked by its enemies, its reforms have backfired, it has evaded challenges, it has refused to heed its prophets. But as Astra Taylor reminds us in this timely and sagacious book, there is no substitute. The fate of the world depends on it."—Thomas Frank, author of Listen, Liberal
Reviews from Goodreads
LIVING IN THE TENSION
WHAT IS DEMOCRACY? Since this deceptively simple question first came into my mind, I haven’t been able to shake it. We think we understand the word, but what are we really referring to...