The Dispersion of Power

A Critical Realist Theory of Democracy
Publisher: OUP Oxford
Date of Publication:
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Product details:

No. of pages:304 pages
Size:241x163x21 mm
Weight:578 g
Short description:

The Dispersion of Power is an urgent call to rethink centuries of conventional wisdom about what democracy is, why it matters, and how to make it better.

Long description:
The Dispersion of Power is an urgent call to rethink centuries of conventional wisdom about what democracy is, why it matters, and how to make it better. Drawing from history, social science, psychology, and critical theory, it explains why elections do not and cannot realize the classic ideal of popular rule, and why prevailing strategies of democratic reform often make things worse. Instead, Bagg argues, we should see democracy as a way of protecting public power from capture-an alternative vision that is at once more realistic and more inspiring.

Despite their many shortcomings, real-world elections do prevent the most extreme forms of tyranny, and are therefore indispensable. In dealing with the vast inequalities that remain, however, we cannot rely on standard solutions such as electoral reform, direct democracy, deliberation, and participatory governance. Instead, Bagg shows, protecting and enriching democracy requires addressing underlying inequalities of power directly. In part, this entails substantive policies attacking the advantages of wealthy elites. Even more crucially, deepening democracy requires the organization of oppositional, countervailing power among ordinary people. Neither task is easy, but historical precedents exist in both cases-and if democracy is to survive contemporary crises, leaders and citizens alike must find ways to revive and reinvent these essential democratic practices for the 21st century.

Democrats have failed to confront the realities of power, Samuel Bagg compellingly argues, frustrating their own hopes by thinking about democracy itself the wrong way. In doing so, they have helped reproduce hierarchy rather than prioritize mechanisms to counteract the risk of state capture. Few books are both important and original in their provocation, and even fewer explore an arresting insight with the generality and specifics to make it potent. The Dispersion of Power does all of this?and more.
Table of Contents:
A Critical Realist Theory of Democracy
Beyond Responsive Representation
Beyond Participatory Inclusion
What is State Capture?
Structuring Public Power: The Liberal Demands of Democracy
Dispersing Private Power: The Radical Demands of Democracy
Resisting State Capture as a Democratic Ideal
The Power of the Multitude: A Realistic Defense of Elections
Fighting Power with Power: An Agenda for Democratic Policy
Organizing for Power: A Paradigm for Democratic Action