“The best book on democracy in the past hundred years”
The fall of the Berlin Wall. The collapse of the Iron Curtain. The Orange Revolution. The Arab Spring.
The rush of events in recent decades seems to confirm that Alexis de Tocqueville was right: the future belongs to democracy. But take a closer look. The history of democracy since the 1830s, when Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America, reveals a far more complicated picture. And the future, author Chilton Williamson Jr. demonstrates, appears rather unpromising for democratic institutions around the world.
The fall of communism sparked the popular notion that the spread of democracy was inevitable. After Tocqueville challenges this sunny notion. Various aspects of twenty-first-century life that Tocqueville could scarcely have imagined—political, economic, social, religious, intellectual, technological, environmental—militate against democracy, both in developing societies and in the supposedly democratic West.
This piercing, elegantly written book raises crucial questions about the future of democracy, including:
- Just what is democracy? As Williamson shows, definitions and concepts have become so varied that the term is effectively meaningless.
- How does a system whose institutions and habits arose in small-scale societies adapt to a postmodern, globalized world?
- After two centuries of democratization, are Western countries really more free?
- How can democracy endure when people care more about procuring what they want than about securing liberty?
- How does a political system survive when it is beset by problems that cannot be solved by political means?
Two decades ago, Francis Fukuyama famously pronounced the “end of history.” History, it turns out, is still very much with us. Democracy (whatever it is) may not be in the decades and centuries to come.
What They're Saying...
“Williamson demonstrated in his work a love of literature, an appreciation of good writing and an intense interest in politics and history. . . . In this strongly written and thoughtful book, the subject is democracy, a concept central in our lives but seldom satisfactorily defined. Mr. Williamson rehearses the attempts at definition, from Plato to Chesterton, and suggests that democracy ‘is no longer a political concept at all; it is shorthand for universal human bliss.’”
— Washington Times
“It’s very well indeed to find an author of Chilton Williamson Jr.’s distinction and intelligence bidding us to a discussion of democracy. We need to have such a discussion. . . . Williamson’s illuminating enterprise—and let me assure you, it does illuminate—is to examine democracy’s course since the publication, not quite two centuries ago, of Democracy in America. . . . Don’t care for what goes on in the debased politics of our time? Wonder how in the world we got where we are? Here’s how.”
“With this book, Chilton Williamson advances to the top rank of American political and social thinkers. This is an extraordinary performance of a versatile novelist, political analyst, art critic, etc. His main thesis may be arguable, but only by people whose mental equipment and scholarship are at least close to the qualities Williamson demonstrates.”
— John Lukacs, author of Five Days in London and Democracy and Populism
“Chilton Williamson has written the best book on democracy in the past hundred years. Capturing Tocqueville has developed into an intellectual sport, sides taken less on the merits of the French aristo’s prophecy that equality and democracy were everywhere gaining ground in the nineteenth century than on when and in what form the process will be completed. Williamson, in this learned and elegantly written book, has changed the rules of the game.”
— John Willson, professor emeritus of history, Hillsdale College
“Is democracy good for people? Or nations? Can it survive George W. Bush’s ‘global democratic revolution’ or the ‘Arab Spring’? What, in any case, does democracy mean in an age of mass politics, mass culture, mass communications, not to say mass hysteria? Chilton Williamson tackles the horrors, contradictions, and absurdities of life after Tocqueville (and Fukuyama) in a book that is both immensely civilized and a cracking good read.”
— Stuart Reid, former deputy editor of the Spectator (London)
“At last a book that actually thinks about democracy—i.e., courageously dares address the Deity of our times. While referring to just about everything that has been written about democracy in modern times—his culture seems as limitless as his modesty—Williamson adroitly nudges the democratic reader to wonder whether he has ever been taught the right things about democracy. This book is a thought-provoking meditation one feels urged to take an active part in.”
— Claude Polin, professor emeritus, University of Paris–Sorbonne
“A comprehensive and continually stimulating study of how we have entered a postdemocratic age which has subverted nearly everything that was valuable in American democracy as understood by Tocqueville.”
— Donald W. Livingston, professor emeritus of philosophy, Emory University
“[Williamson goes] some way toward explaining why so many are blind to the weaknesses of contemporary democracy and the possibility of its demise: the inevitability and permanence of democracy is an article of faith. . . . His analysis compels the reader to confront the possibility that political regimes are not born immortal; they also evolve and eventually die. If his book provokes more serious engagement with those challenges, he will have performed a valuable service.”
— University Bookman
“A satisfying blend of history and insights.”
— Midwest Book Review
“A book that explores at length the ambiguities, contradictions, and doubtful prospects of whatever it is that we call democracy. After Tocqueville is extraordinarily wide-ranging. . . . In the course of his explorations Williamson touches on a huge variety of thinkers who have held quite divergent views on the nature, value, and prospects of popular rule.”
— Catholic World Report