John Dunn Democracy: A History

ISBN 13: 9780871139313

Democracy: A History

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For the last twenty-five years, fostering democracy around the world has been a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy. Why is democracy so important today? Why should it hold such sway over the political speech of the modern world? In Democracy: A History , John Dunn – England's leading political theorist — sets out to explain the extraordinary presence of democracy in today's world. The story begins in Greece, where it began as an improvised remedy for a very local difficulty twenty–five hundred years ago. Athens gave democracy a name (demokratia) and worked out an elaborate, highly distinctive, and astonishingly thorough interpretation of the political conditions required to achieve it. However, democracy's tenure was short–lived, flourishing briefly and then fading away almost everywhere for nearly two thousand years. Democracy then suddenly reappeared with the founding of the new American republic and amid the struggles of France's Revolution. The word democrat suddenly became a partisan label and a badge of political honor, lending credibility to the idea of transforming human collective life, anywhere and everywhere, to fit the requirements of democracy that are so familiar to us today.

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About the Author:

A Fellow of King's College, John Dunn is professor of political theory at Cambridge University.

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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, popular elections and checks and balances really share with the public congresses of Kleisthenes and Pericles? In this complement to his previous book, Democracy: The Unfinished Journey (1992), British political theorist Dunn traces the roots of democratic rule, examining the motivations and tactics of its major proponents and detractors while deftly leading his readers through thousands of years of political rhetoric. As much a linguistic and sociological exploration as it is a political history, Dunn's book questions why this word, democracy, has gone from a peculiar concept widely regarded as a failure to a term of ridicule and derision, then to its current status in all languages as an aspirational ideal. Dunn departs ancient Greece for the enlightened radicalism of the American Revolution and the jubilant chaos of the French Revolution in his quest to answer what exactly has given "this very old and much reviled word the stamina and drive to win through in the end." (July)
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