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LA Review of Books: The United States Is Not a Democracy

Recently featured on the LA Review of Books as one of the best articles in LARB's 10 year history in the category of Law, in this article from 2016, Roslyn Fuller reviews "Democracy: A Life" by Cambridge Professor in Classics Paul Cartledge.

You can find the full review at the LA Review of Books here and a preview of the article below.

EVEN IN AN ELECTION YEAR, there’s little that induces an instinctive yawn like a book about democracy. As a theme, democracy is up there with World War II — one of those strings that’s so relentlessly pulled that your eardrum implodes in advance at the mere thought of another MBA-speak–filled gush on “empowerment,” “synergy,” and why, as the Lego movie had it, everything is awesome.

But a new strain of democracy research is emerging, a variety that, instead of preaching democracy’s virtues, questions whether societies like the United States deserve to be called democracies at all. And the unlikely originators of this thought-stream are not firebrand activists but elite academics.

It all has to do with the root of the word “democracy,” which comes from two Greek words: “demos,” meaning “people,” and “kratos,” which translates as “power.” The original use of the word demokratia in ancient Greece therefore meant something like “people power” or, as some have translated it, “the capacity of the people to do things.” The ancient Greeks took this “capacity of the people to do things” very seriously in the way they organized political life, and it is this form of democracy — not the modern one we are familiar with — that Paul Cartledge takes as his basis for Democracy: A Life.

Continue reading at LARB here.


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