The Shortest History of Democracy

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From The Shortest History series comes the complete history of democracy, its champions, and its detractors—from the assemblies of ancient Mesopotamia to present perils

This tumultuous global story begins with democracy’s radical core idea: We can collaborate, as equals, to determine our own lives and futures. John Keane traces how this concept emerged and evolved, from the earliest “assembly democracies” to European-style electoral democracy to our present system of “monitory democracy.” Today, governments answer not only to voters on Election Day, but to intense public scrutiny (monitoring) every day. Keane calls this media- and communication-driven system “the most complex and vibrant form of democracy yet”—but it is not invulnerable.

We live in an age of political and environmental crisis, when despots in China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere reject the promises of power-sharing. At this urgent moment, Keane’s book mounts a new defense of a precious global ideal.