An Eclectic Bibliography of the World History of Democracy
by Steven Muhlberger, Associate Professor of History, Nipissing University.
There are many books on democratic theory. These are just a few that I parrticularly
liked, or which provoked me to think about important issues. Other works,
such as Hayek's, I have read, but somehow did not get into the bibliography.
I would be interested in hearing about essential books I haven't listed here,
especially if they have a firm empirical basis. Please write me.
Visit the World History
of Democracy site.
Chua, Amy. World on Fire: How Exporting
Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability.
New York: Doubleday, 2002.
Might as well start out with the bad news! Despite the sub-title,
this is not a critique of democracy so much as an argument that that "exported"
institutions can have deleterious effects in a new environment. Best
seen as a very interesting survey of intractable the social and cultural
divisions that affect many parts of the world, and make any kind of government
difficult. It is not, however, very useful in analyzing what has made
democracy work in those places where it has succeeded.
Dahl, Robert A. Democracy and Its Critics. New Haven and London:
Yale University Press, 1989.
A fine discussion of basic issues, based firmly on an historical analysis.
Dunn, John, ed., Democracy: The Unfinished Journey.
A collection of articles re-surveying the history of democracy, from a European,
early-1990s perspective. The articles vary in quality.
Elshtain, Jean Bethke. Democracy on Trial. Concord, Ont.: Anansi,
These are the Massey Lectures of 1993. It is a far more positive view of
liberal democracy than seen in C.B. Macpherson's 1965 lectures in the same
series (see below). Elshtain is particularly critical of the "politics of
Femia, Joseph V. Marxism and Democracy. Oxford: Clarendon Press,
A brief book by a scholar of Gramsci's thought. Thoroughly exposes the fact
that Marxism has no room for democracy in it without contradicting major
tenets of Marxism. This is a good primer on Marxism and its implementation.
Foner, Eric. History of American Freedom.
New York: Norton, 1998.
Perhaps this doesn't belong in a section on democratic theory.
However, I found it an astonishingly good book, and it needs to be listed
somewhere on this site. It does not treat "freedom" as an ideal
handed to Americans by the Founding Fathers, but as something Americans have
disagreed about and struggled over, ever since 1776.
Jacobs, Jane. Systems of survival : a dialogue on the moral foundations
of commerce and politics. New York : Random House, 1992.
A very interesting fictional dialogue about human morality systems and how
they determine how a society works. Her discussion of democratic access to
good looks (through plastic surgery) and capital (through penny banks) is
Levin, Michael. The Spectre of Democracy. The Rise of Modern Democracy
As Seen By Its Critics. New York: Washington Square Press, 1992.
This book is a bit of a grab-bag, but does a good job of raising issues and
discussing them briefly.
Part I talks briefly about the history of the extension of the franchise
in USA, Britain, France, and Germany for historical context, then discusses
criticisms of democracy in a general way. Part II examines the ideas of John
Adams, Hegel, de Tocqueville, and Carlyle in some detail. Part III examines
the special cases of the denial of votes to blacks in the USA and women more
generally. The conclusion discusses the definition and the quality of democracy.
Lijphart, Arend. Democracy in Plural Societies: A Comparative Exploration.
New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1977.
This book is part analysis and part prescription. The author believes that
the misconception that democracy must mean strict majoritarian rule has distorted
the perception of the development of democracy in plural societies and narrowed
the choice of strategies for implementing it. Plural societies are those,
in his view, that have strong vertical cleavages, in which people's contacts
and identification are largely within their own sub-society. Consociational
democracy is democracy that modifies its majoritarian principles to acknowledge
the interests of these separate segments.
Magagna, Victor V. Communities of Grain. Rural Rebellion in Comparative
Perspective. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991.
An excellent and thought-provoking book, one that gives the reader a good
grasp of the common features and tendencies of rural communities in their
relations with outside authority.
M. repeats over and over again that these rural communities were not egalitarian
or "egalitarian utopias." In the last chapter in particular he stresses the
limitations of the communitarianism of the rural community. Modern communitarians
who are attached to individual rights and the possibility of wider citizenship
(=transferable rights of citizenship between one locality and another) cannot
hope to recreate old-style rural communitarianism in the modern world.
It would be interesting to read this book in conjunction with Barrington
Moore's Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (see below).
Macpherson, C.B. The Real World of Democracy. Toronto: Canadian
Broadcasting Corporation, 1965.
This is the fourth series of CBC Massey Lectures, presented in early 1965.
The argument of this book is that liberal democracy is only one of three
sorts found in the world of 1965, the others being the non-liberal democracies
of the communist and underdeveloped countries. These other two have a valid
claim to the name democracy because they aim to "provide the conditions for
the free development of human capacities, and to do this equally for all
members of the society." (p. 58) He takes seriously communist claims about
the goals of communism and the economic successes of communism, and believes
that a non-liberal society can at least lead the way to the free development
of human capacities. The constant transfer of economic power from the majority
to a small dominant group is seen as a unique problem of liberal democracy.
Interesting to read in the light of the developments of the 1990s,
and worth comparing to Elshtain's Democracy on Trial, a later series
of Massey lectures.
Mansbridge, Jane J. Beyond Adversary Democracy. New York: Basic
A detailed investigation of two "unitary democracies," a small Vermont town
and an urban countercultural workplace. Mansbridge is most interested in
how these minidemocracies affirm unity and work for a perceived common good.
It is based on extensive interviews, and that material is used well. M's
chief theoretical point is that democracy need not only be "adversary" democracy
in which everybody votes on an issue and the majority wins.
Markoff, John. Waves of Democracy: Social Movements
and Political Change. Pine Forge Press, 1996.
Markoff has argued that "the history of democracy is profoundly polycentric."
In this book he tries to account for the democratic and anti-democratic waves
of modern history by examining the interaction between "social movement challengers"
and "elite reformers" in all parts of the world. Markoff
takes comparative history and transnational interactions seriously, which
puts him way ahead of the pack.
May, Larry, and Stacey Hoffman. Collective Responsibility. Five Decades
of Debate in Theoretical and Applied Ethics . Savage, MD: Rowman &
A collection of articles on various aspects of the question.
Moore, Jr., Barrington. Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy.
Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World. Boston: Beacon Press,
This book has become a classic. It seeks to discover why some societies have
in the process of modernization ended up as democracies, some as fascist dictatorships,
and some as communist dictatorships. Moore believes that how and on what
terms the countryside is modernized is the key.
Moore seems to be reacting against a very conservative mood in American
academe in the early 60s, in which many people thought they had proved without
a doubt that violent revolutions don't work and are unnecessary, and that
gradualism is a much better way. Moore rejects this view on a number of grounds.
Modernization of countries in a world of industrial powers does not resemble
modernization of the first few industrial powers. In other words, the path
to modernization no longer is particularly conducive to the development of
His view is that in all the paths to modernization, there has been a great
deal of injustice, and injustice continues in all societies today. Peasant
society in particular has been demolished or exploited in every modernizing
society. He finds the arguments for both gradualism and revolutionary transformation
equally flawed, and sees both Western liberalism and communism as obsolescent
and repressive systems that cannot achieve just societies as they are.
Compare to Magagna's Communities of Grain (see above), which addresses
some of the same concerns.
Putnam, Robert D. "Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital."
Journal of Democracy 6 (1995): 65-78.
This article had a moment of fame when it first came out. The focus is on
the face-to-face associations that Tocqueville (see below) noted as particularly
characteristic of American democracy. Putnam offers figures that show that
membership in such associations--which he believes lead to a sense of identity
and social trust--are in decline, although the USA still has more than many
countries, and thinks this is a bad trend. The rising membership in "tertiary
organizations" such as the Sierra Club, in which the member does not necessarily
know the others, does not compensate in his view.
Putnam suggests that more research is needed into this question, and that
methods of increasing social capital should be identified.
Rejai, M. Democracy. The Contemporary Theories. New York: Atherton
A good collection of selections from theorists.
Sartori, Giovanni. Theory of Democracy Revisited. Chatham, N.J.:
Chatham House, 1987.
Sartori 's intent in writing the book is to clean up the language of political
theory. Since he last wrote a theory of democracy (Democratic Theory, 1962),
he finds that language has been debased, especially the term democracy itself.
In the book he hopes to define what democracy is, what we can expect from
it, and how the claims for new or better types of democracy are false.
A major point of Sartori's argument is that letting oneself get carried
away by idealism is counterproductive. If every existing democracy is imperfect,
that does not necessarily mean that democracy does not exist. Ideals must
be matched to ideals, and realities to realities. Sartori is especially concerned
that the striving for equality, or economic democracy, or some other good,
has led people to forget how important political freedom is, that without
political freedom there is little hope to hold on to anything else.
Liberalism is a key value for Sartori. For Sartori, the essential
good is the liberal society that preserves basic freedoms. A weakness of the
book is that "liberalism" is not as clearly defined as other key terms.
Strengths: He demolishes all sorts of dumb ideas and exposes many
Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America.Edited by J.P. Mayer.
Translated by George Lawrence. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1969.
The purpose of this book was to investigate the prospects of democracy by
an investigation of the most democratic society known to T. It was written
in two volumes, five years apart, in the 1830s.
Tocqueville had a specific definition of democracy: he meant a society
in which there were no important social or legal divisions. So when he talks
about democracy, he is investigating a type of society more than a form of
government, and is interested as much in social conditions and customs as
in the details of government.
Despite its age, the book is still useful for both its observations and
its theoretical discussion. Note that T.'s journal has also been translated
and published. It is interesting for showing that many respectable Americans
in 1830 (lawyers and such) told T. that democracy had already "gone too far."
Weiner, Myron. "Empirical Democratic Theory." In Competitive Elections
in Developing Countries. Edited by Myron Weiner and Ergun Ozbudun. Pp.
3-34. Duke University Press, 1987.
Weiner finds that almost all social and economic theories of the prerequisites
for democracy are incapable of accounting for the success or failure of various
democratic experiments without making many ad hoc exceptions.
Weiner finds the most telling empirical evidence on the matter is the fact
(emphasized in the original): "Every country with a population of at least
1 million (and almost all the smaller countries as well) that has emerged
from colonial rule since World War II and has had a continuous democratic
experience is a former British colony." Therefore he is particularly interested
in the British practice of colonial government.
Zakaria, Fareed. The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy
at Home and Abroad. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004.
A pessimistic view by a journalist, of interest for his forthright assertion
that freedom requires a certain kind of elitism.
Copyright (C) 1998, 2000, 2004 Steven Muhlberger. This file may be
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