Democracy Books This Week
Michael Kazin’s What it Took to Win headlines this week’s list of democracy books. However, other titles feature topics on Latin America, American federalism, psychology, and populist communication. It’s a fascinating collection of books with something to interest many different readers. What I like best about many of the titles is they involve topics with multiple layers. Kazin’s What it Took to Win is about the Democratic Party in the United States, but it is also about the arc of American history, the evolution of American democracy, and so much more.
Make sure to listen to this week’s podcast featuring Freedom House’s Sarah Repucci with an update on the state of Freedom in the World. You can also support the podcast by making a monthly contribution at Patreon to access bonus interviews and other content.
What It Took to Win
The Democratic Party has changed and evolved over its nearly two hundred year history. It has transformed from the party of the slaveholding class and Jim Crow into the party of civil rights. In many ways the history of the Democratic Party is a history of the United States. The party evolved as the country continued to evolve and change. So, this book offers a novel perspective to think about the ongoing process of democratization in the United States. I’m sure some will read this work because they identify as Democrats, however this is a book for anybody who thinks deeply about political institutions, American history or democracy in practice. It’s a book many readers will talk about for quite some time.
Michael Kazin, What It Took to Win: A History of the Democratic Party
Psychology of Democracy
Democracy is more than a form of government. It is also a way of life. However, democracy influences more than how people behave. It also shapes how citizens think. Ashley Weinberg brings together many different scholars to reflect on the relationship between psychology and democracy. Indeed, some essays explain how democracy shapes citizen psychology, while others discuss how psychology influences democracy. It’s an interesting approach to explain the challenges for democracy as well as reasons for hope.
Ashley Weinberg (ed.), Psychology of Democracy: Of the People, By the People, For the People
Deepening Democracy in Post-Neoliberal Bolivia and Venezuela
Most of the literature written on Venezuela focuses on its descent into authoritarianism. It’s easy to forget Chávez and Morales arose amidst widespread frustration with neoliberal policies. Their emergence began as legitimate democratic movements. Indeed, both movements mobilized neglected parts of the electorate and gave them a voice. However, their leaders became increasingly authoritarian as their movements emphasized ideological goals rather than respect for the political process. John Brown navigates through the reasons for the rise of populism in both nations, but also reflects on what went wrong. It’s a nuanced approach that reminds me of work from Aldo Madariaga that was featured on the podcast.
Tensions of American Federal Democracy
American federalism comes with advantages and disadvantages. It offers opportunities for opposition political parties to have influence in public policy in different parts of the country even when they lose national elections. At the same time, it fragments public policy and makes it difficult to provide consistent public goods for American citizens. Indeed, it can even institutionalize unfairness where some citizens have better access to education. healthcare, and social welfare. Jared Sonnicksen reflects on the tensions inherent in American federalism. It’s an original approach that touches on themes reminiscent of Don Kettl’s discussion of federalism in a past episode.
Jared Sonnicksen, Tensions of American Federal Democracy: Fragmentation of the State
Discursive Disruption, Populist Communication and Democracy
Ernesto Laclau shifted the study of populism from a common ideology to a political strategy. From this perspective many different politicians with different political agendas all fall under the umbrella of populism. Elena Block compares the disruptive political tactics and communication styles of Hugo Chávez and Donald Trump. Despite their ideological differences, they share many similarities. It’s an observation also made in the recent book The Revenge of Power by Moisés Naím. Block adds to the ongoing research on populism in the 21st century.