This week’s latest books on democracy include works on conspiracy, Russian history, American Politics, and comparative politics. but the headliner is Danielle Allen’s Democracy in the Time of Coronavirus. It’s not the first political book on the pandemic, but it’s the first I’ve taken seriously so far. I’ve included brief descriptions about the books, but try to provide podcasts or videos featuring the authors where you can hear them discuss their own ideas. And don’t forget to catch this week’s podcast featuring Caitlin Andrews-Lee in a conversation about charismatic movements and personalistic leaders.
Democracy in the Time of Coronavirus
When the pandemic first began, I expected to see political literature almost single mindedly focused on its causes and effects. For a variety of reasons that really hasn’t happened. Part of the reason is pandemic fatigue. Very few of us wanted to read books about the pandemic after consuming so many articles in newspapers, magazines, and scholarly journals. Moreover, podcasts and video programs approached many political thinkers to dissect the issue from many different angles in real time.
So, it takes a truly original thinker to excite the intellectual public with fresh insights on the pandemic. Danielle Allen is the political thinker the modern intelligentsia has patiently held their breath to learn from. She is among the foremost theorists on democracy so an opportunity to uncover her thoughts on how the pandemic exposed cracks in modern democratic governance is thrilling. Of course, her purpose is not to tear down democracy, but rather to discover how to repair it for the future. Democracy in the Time of Coronavirus is available as an ebook this week. Physical copies are not available until February.
Danielle Allen, Democracy in the Time of Coronavirus
The New Heretics
Before Donald Trump became President, very few scholars took conspiracy theories seriously. However, in recent years scholars have tried to explain their place in contemporary politics. A few titles that come to mind include A Lot of People are Saying and The Death of Truth. Andy Thomas probably belongs in this new subgenre of political literature. He explores the varied conspiracy theories driving political polarization. His new book, The New Heretics, explores why people continue to believe outlandish conspiracies in the midst of a golden age for information. Moreover, he ties it back to how it influences modern day politics.
Andy Thomas, The New Heretics: Understanding the Conspiracy Theories Polarizing the World
The Estate Origins of Democracy in Russia
It’s difficult for the uninitiated to truly grasp the complexities of Russian politics. Like an onion, there is always another layer to peel away before anyone can understand its politics. Tomila Lankina offers another angle to examine Russian history. He goes back before the Communist Revolution to explore the origins of a democracy that never fully actualized. It looks like a fascinating volume for anyone focused on Post-Soviet politics or its history.
Checks in the Balance
A consistent theme of American politics dating back to the Constitutional Convention involves the proper roles of legislative and executive authority. Scholars of every generation return to this debate with renewed vigor. It has remained an important topic for so long because it involves issues at the heart of the American constitutional order. So, Alexander Bolton and Sharece Throwe engage a topic with a long tradition, but they approach it with a fresh perspective. They make a case that legislatures do hold substantial powers even in the midst of expansionary executive power. It’s an important read for true scholars of American Politics.
Alexander Bolton and Sharece Thrower, Checks in the Balance: Legislative Capacity and the Dynamics of Executive Power
Understandings of Democracy
A few months ago Jie Lu and Yun-han Chu published an article in the Journal of Democracy called “Trading Democracy for Governance.” It makes the sophisticated argument that different conceptions of democracy involve tradeoffs. They argue scholars must understand how citizens value these tradeoffs to understand their views on democracy. In other words, it’s never enough to ask whether somebody believes in democracy. Scholars must understand what people mean when they claim to support democracy. Their book appears to explore these ideas in even greater depth through sophisticated academic rigor. Their book is one that belongs on the radar of any serious democracy scholar.
Jie Lu and Yun-han Chu, Understandings of Democracy: Origins and Consequences beyond Western Democracies.