What is democracy really? What do we mean when we use the term? And can it ever truly exist?
There is no shortage of democracy, at least in name, and yet it is in crisis everywhere we look. From a cabal of thieving plutocrats in the White House to rising inequality and xenophobia worldwide, it is clear that democracy—specifically the principle of government by and for the people—is not living up to its promise.
In Democracy May Not Exist, but We'll Miss It When It's Gone, Astra Taylor shows that real democracy—fully inclusive and completely egalitarian—has in fact never existed. In a tone that is both philosophical and anecdotal, weaving together history, theory, the stories of individuals, and conversations with such leading thinkers as Cornel West, Danielle Allen, and Wendy Brown, Taylor invites us to reexamine the term. Is democracy a means or an end, a process or a set of desired outcomes? What if the those outcomes, whatever they may be—peace, prosperity, equality, liberty, an engaged citizenry—can be achieved by non-democratic means? Or if an election leads to a terrible outcome? If democracy means rule by the people, what does it mean to rule and who counts as the people?
The inherent paradoxes are too often unnamed and unrecognized. By teasing them out, Democracy May Not Exist, but We'll Miss It When It's Gone offers a better understanding of what is possible, what we want, and why democracy is so hard to realize.
"What is this thing called Democracy? Google the question and you will exceed one million hits. But for an honest and illuminating answer, read this book—every single word. Searching, lucid, visionary, Astra Taylor takes a deep oceanic dive into the history, meaning, uses, and promise of democracy—moving from Plato’s Greece to Syriza’s Greece, from the Global South to post-Communist East, from slavery to fascism, liberalism to neoliberalism, Occupy to the Commons. She knows what most political scientists don’t: that democracy is a promise unfulfilled, and in our strivings to achieve it nothing is guaranteed. But we can’t live without it."
—Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination
"Astra Taylor is a rare public intellectual, utterly committed to asking humanity’s most profound questions yet entirely devoid of pretensions and compulsively readable. Now she plunges deep into the crisis that underlies so many others: the sorry state (and the exhilarating promise) of this thing called democracy. At once richly historical and immediately relevant, this wise, lucid and unflinchingly honest book deserves to be at the center of public debate." —Naomi Klein, author of No Is Not Enough
“Moths never reach the moon, but they navigate by it; we humans may never reach democracy, Astra Taylor tells us, but we navigate by its ideals. This is a beautiful, revelatory book about ideas and how they matter in everyday life, by the only writer who could herself navigate so gracefully among factory workers, contemporary economics, and ancient Athenian history.” —Rebecca Solnit, author of Men Explain Things to Me