Democracy Books this Week
The year 2022 begins with the somber, unimaginable, unthinkable memory of January 6th, 2021. The collection of books below cover many topics, but it’s difficult to begin any discussion about democracy without a reflection on January 6th with its anniversary so near. For that reason, Jamie Raskin’s book Unthinkable headlines the selections below. At the same time, it may not have the most lasting impact. Scholars Joseph Fishkin and William Forbath bring forth among the most original works on legal scholarship, inequality, and democratic thought. They interweave contemporary thought on economic inequality into constitutional doctrine through a historical analysis of lost and forgotten debates. In other words, this week offers a number of thought provoking works for anyone interested in democracy, equality, and freedom.
Make sure to check out this week’s podcast on polarization in the United States. Like all the podcasts it goes beyond surface level preconceptions to ask some of the toughest questions for scholars to answer. Here is the link to the episode and don’t forget to rate and review Democracy Paradox on Apple Podcasts or your favorite app.
Jamie Raskin offers a personal memoir that weaves together his personal history including the recent death of his son with the attacks on American democracy culminating on January 6th. Raskin is among the most outspoken members of Congress regarding the assault on the capitol and the second impeachment of Donald Trump. Normally, I do not include books from politicians, however this is a timely work as Americans reflect on the anniversary of January 6th. At the same time, it’s important to recognize this is not an academic book even though academics may use it as a critical primary source for their research. Nonetheless, many readers will appreciate a less academic work that tackles important political questions.
The Anti-Oligarchy Constitution
The most exciting book this week for scholars is The Anti-Oligarchy Constitution. It blends ideas from political and legal theory with American history alongside more recent scholarship on economic inequality. Unlike past works on economic inequality, Fishkin and Forbath link these issues to constitutional questions. They reimagine many constitutional concepts based on forgotten historical traditions. At the same time, they think through these ideas rather than adopting them as traditions. It’s already among the most original works on democracy in 2022.
Joseph Fishkin and William E. Forbath, The Anti-Oligarchy Constitution: Reconstructing the Economic Foundations of American Democracy
The Next Civil War
It’s easy to dismiss Stephen Marche’s book The Next Civil War as unnecessary hyperbole. However, it’s more useful to think of it as a series of thought experiments. Many of the scenarios come across as believable due to ongoing crises present in the United States. At the same time, Marche is not an academic or a stodgy scholar. He writes as a journalist and as an intellectual. It’s likely an easier read than other works on democracy. In the end, Marche appears to offer a warning for citizens and elites alike rather than a prognostication or a prediction.
Stephen Marche, The Next Civil War: Dispatches from the American Future
Dismantling Global White Privilege
Over the past few years a number of books focused on race have entered mainstream conversations. Chandran Nair elevates many of the arguments writers such as Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo make onto the global scale. The title is clearly provocative so it’s likely to provoke those angered over conversations about white privilege and antiracism. I understand the critiques from Yascha Mounk and those over at Persuasion about this area of study. However, I also believe it’s important to experience multiple perspectives on recognizable problems like racism. So, for those interested in working through these challenges, Nair offers an interesting perspective.
Democracy in Crisis
Democracy in Crisis is the most unlikely inclusion into this weekly list. It’s not from a major publisher nor had I heard of the author beforehand. Nonetheless, the topic explores a subject of endless fascination for most scholars of democracy. The democratic experience of Ancient Athens has served as a template for reformers and theorists alike. Still, the historical record remains difficult to unpack. Primary sources like Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War is incomplete and many contemporary sources have recognizable biases. It takes a historian and a theorist to make sense of Athens’ experience and translate it for a modern audience.
Jeff Miller, Democracy in Crisis: Lessons from Ancient Athens