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Democracy: A History

1 rating: 3.0
A book by John Dunn

All schoolchildren learn that ancient Athens was the birthplace of democracy, forebear of the philosophy of governance that Westerners now almost universally consider the natural right of every human being. But what does our system of protected freedoms, … see full wiki

Tags: Book
Author: John Dunn
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
1 review about Democracy: A History

Democracy: egoism equilized

  • Sep 3, 2008
Dunn studies the history of the word and the idea of democracy from its inception in Athens, suggests why it went dormant for 2000 years, then picks up the study again with the American revolution and the French Revolution.

But this isn't primarily a linguistic or historical exercise, but rather a study of democracy as a process ("democratization") and as a form of government ("capitalist republic"), and a study of how the word "democracy" has been co-opted and changed and why it still has power today.

Dunn seems democracy as a split (framed in philosophy by Sieyes and in practice by Robespierre during the French Revolution) between equality and "egoism" - Ayn-Randian capitalism, basically, is how I'd describe Dunn's use of the word. The American experiment resolved the dialectic (Marxism is dead as a form of government but not forgotten as a way of thought) in favor of egoism by accepting limits on equality, with controls on egoism as envisioned by Madison in Federalist No. 10. This framed the success (i.e. avoidance of Terror) of the American revolution, while taking the practice of democracy as a form of government another step removed from the original Athenian definition and practice.

This salvation and distress is the form in which democracy has conquered the world. Dunn restates and sometimes overstates the uniqueness of his question, but the study is a worthy one.

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