Democracy Books This Week
Ro Khanna’s Dignity in a Digital Age headlines this week’s list of democracy books. But don’t overlook the other titles included alongside it. Perhaps most interesting is John Keane’s short history of democracy. Like always the topics touch on a variety of approaches to examine democracy. Lawrence Jacobs offers a reassessment of American politics. Mark Clifford informs us about Hong Kong. Finally, Stuart Soroka and Christopher Wlezien examine the state of media in democracy.
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Dignity in a Digital Age
During the Arab Spring, Larry Diamond referred to smart phones and social media as “Liberation Technology.” More recently, he described this same technology threatened a “Postmodern Totalitarianism.” Discussions about technology went from elation to horror in the last decade. Congressman Ro Khanna believes it’s possible to find a middle ground where the gains of digital technology outweigh the challenges once again. I’m always a little hesitant to suggest a book from a politician, because the ideas can get lost in the larger political purpose. However, this book comes with some impressive recommendations including a forward from Nobel Prize Winning Economist Amartya Sen. Ro Khanna is already a significant figure in Washington, but this book has the potential to expand his reputation into the wider intellectual community as well.
Ro Khanna, Dignity in a Digital Age: Making Tech Work for All of Us
Democracy under Fire
After the election of Donald Trump, a wave of literature was published to make sense of the 2016 election. Some literature focused on the decline or the death of democracy. The 2020 election did not bring about new hope when Trump lost, but rather new horrors with his refusal to concede culminating in the events on January 6th. Lawrence Jacobs does not view the Trump Presidency as an aberration, but rather as the culmination of historical trends. He documents how reforms in the American political system removed important guardrails that kept politicians like Trump out of power. Jacobs writes more about American history, but with a keen sense on how decisions of the past affect the present moment.
Lawrence R. Jacobs, Democracy under Fire: Donald Trump and the Breaking of American History
The Shortest History of Democracy
It’s hard to imagine, but very few little is written about the history of democracy. Of course, almost every serious student of democracy can provide a broad outline of democracy’s history. Still, it hasn’t received the attention it rightly deserves. So, John Keane’s recent book fills an important gap in the literature on democracy. What I like most is his book is concise. It’s ideal for casual readers or students without a broad background in democratic theory and its history. It’s an ideal introduction for inquisitive undergraduates or people outside academia who want to learn more about democracy’s evolution over time.
John Keane, The Shortest History of Democracy
Today Hong Kong, Tomorrow the World
On October 4, 2019, NBA executive Daryl Morey tweeted, “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” This simple sentiment brought the issues surrounding Hong Kong into the political mainstream. Of course, students of democracy have long followed the Umbrella Movement and other attempts to democratize politics in Hong Kong for a long time. Mark Clifford’s latest book documents the political relationship between Hong Kong and China. However, he goes farther to consider the implications for China’s global influence. It’s just as much a warning to the world as it is an account of China’s repression of political freedom in Hong Kong.
Mark Clifford, Today Hong Kong, Tomorrow the World
Information and Democracy
The digital revolution has made information cheap and easily available. At the same time, the public is no more familiar or educated about current events nor do they understand public questions any better. Indeed, the rise of fake news has misdirected and misinformed the public about important facts and details necessary to judge and evaluate policies and politicians. Stuart Soroka and Christopher Wlezien offer a detailed study of the role of news in public policy. They consider the quantity and quality of the information that the public consumes, but also the degree the public understands the information they provide. It’s an important reassessment on an important public institution for any democracy.
Stuart N. Soroka and Christopher Wlezien, Information and Democracy: Public Policy in the News