In this timely and important work, eminent political theorist John Dunn argues that democracy is not synonymous with good government. The author explores the labyrinthine reality behind the basic concept of democracy, demonstrating how the political system that people in the West generally view as straightforward and obvious is, in fact, deeply unclear and, in many cases, dysfunctional. Consisting of four thought-provoking lectures, Dunn’s book sketches the path by which democracy became the only form of government with moral legitimacy, analyzes the contradictions and pitfalls of modern American democracy, and challenges the academic world to take responsibility for giving the world a more coherent understanding of this widely misrepresented political institution. Suggesting that the supposedly ideal marriage of liberal economics with liberal democracy can neither ensure its continuance nor even address the problems of contemporary life, this courageous analysis attempts to show how we came to be so gripped by democracy’s spell and why we must now learn to break it.
John Dunn is emeritus professor of political theory at King’s College, Cambridge, and one of the founders of the “Cambridge school” of political thought.
“Of the many excellent philosophers of democracy working today, John Dunn of Cambridge University is the one best attuned to its paradoxes.” —Christopher Caldwell, Financial Times
“Intellectually bracing . . . Dunn—who has been for decades one of the most articulate critics in the face of democratic triumphalism—now seeks to clear a path out of the maze of our ill-founded aspirations and confusions. In Breaking Democracy’s Spell, he has concentrated on how, despite all appearances, we have never really known what democratic rule is in the first place.”—Thomas Meaney, Nation
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