Crises of Democracy, by Adam Przeworski

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Adam Przeworski, and Cambridge University Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

At a time when some fear the erosion of democratic ideals, Adam Przeworski expands on some of his past arguments to show that there certainly is some foundation to a democratic crisis taking place. Before diving in, Przeworski seeks to have the reader understand some of the central tenets of ‘democracy’ and ‘crisis’, allowing for a better understanding of the argument. Hashing out a relatively transparent definition of both terms, Przeworski moves forward to explore some historical examples of democratic erosion, from its cause through to the outcomes. This discussion looks both at cases when outside sources influenced non-democratic behaviour (refusal of substantial elections), as well as those instances that fall within the machine of democratic happenings (electoral victories for a rival party). Przeworski argues effectively that erosion of democratic means are not always the result of nefarious goings-on, though the aftermath can sometimes lend itself to that form of rule. After looking at the past, Przeworski explore some modern examples and reasons for a democratic crisis in the world, including the rise of parties that seek the far-right sentiments of the political spectrum. Be it those who espouse xenophobia or a suspension of any support mechanisms to help the greater society, Przeworski is detailed in his discussion about how such a drastic pendulum swing can gain momentum by seeking to ‘find democracy again’ for a select group, while completely bastardising it for the larger whole. What is to be done in these cases? Przeworski and some others that he cites seem to feel a need to use the ballot as the greatest weapon to evoke change. While history has shown that the coup is, at times, the only way to overturn a government that strays away from active democracy, it is also not ideal if trying to foster democratic stability. While the tome did present itself as academic in nature, the arguments and layout did lean themselves to layman comprehension. A good piece for those who are in touch with democratic systems and enjoy political history.

While I am aware I get my ‘geek on’ when it comes to books like these, I can see the worthiness of the topic and the importance of the discussion. Przeworski uses not only social science studies, but some events grounded in history to make his points. He does so in a rational manner and does not fly off the handle when it comes to pushing his points to the reader. There is not only written substantiation, but also a number of tables to show how the arguments tie together, permitting Przeworski to make his point to the patient reader. While the book does come across as an academic study, it is not written in such a high-brow style so as to isolate the layperson with a general interest. While this is the case—and I am aware that reading an ARC, I should not be talking about the book’s layout—there was a troublesome presentation to the book in its pre-published electronic form. Tables were not presented clearly for a strong exposition of the valid points being made and that did lessen the impact for me. I love seeing something in black and white, where numbers tell the story. Przeworski and the publisher are surely not to blame for this, but I would be remiss if I did not bring it up. With easy to follow chapters and a style of writing that educates without drowning in minutiae, Przeworski delivers a strong tome and one that will be of interest to many. That being said, as soon as something of this nature is written, its facts are skewed by an ever-active world. Przeworski does admit the 2016 Presidential Election in the United States fuelled his interest in this topic, but effectively argues that this was not a harbinger to a generation of democratic crises. The world is surely in a transformative place politically, though I am not yet worried about the complete erosion of all I hold dear. Check in with me after 2020 and we’ll reevaluate.

Kudos, Mr. Przeworski, for this intriguing look into democracy and political goings-on when it comes to world affairs. I may have to come back to this piece again in the future.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: