We Could All Use a Little Democracy.

AuthorStockwell, Norman

We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition By Michael Austin, Rowman & Littlefield, 232 pages

Direct Deliberative Democracy: How Citizens Can Rule By Debra Campbell and Jack Crittenden, Black Rose Books (University of Chicago Press), 190 pages

In the 1970 film Cromwell, King Charles I, soon to be beheaded by the English revolutionaries, tells Oliver Cromwell that democracy is "based on the foolish notion that there are extraordinary possibilities in very ordinary people." And yet, it is this system of government that Robert M. La Follette heralded in the pages of this magazine, saying the collective judgment of the people "is always safer and wiser and stronger and more unselfish than the judgment of any one individual mind."

In the current political era, many people are trying to understand how to make our democracy function better (or even at all). Dozens of books have come into The Progressive on some version of this topic. I chose these two because they cite many of the same sources and consider some of the same issues.

Michael Austin, the executive vice president of academic affairs and provost at the University of Evansville in Indiana, writes in We Must Not Be Enemies that "Citizens of a democracy need to argue with each other more and shout at each other less." The book's title comes from the final paragraph of Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural address (1861), written at perhaps our nation's most divided time in history. Austin looks at the "hard work" of democracy in ten chapters structured like a college class, taking readers first through the obligations of living in a democracy.

Debra J. Campbell, a professor of philosophy at Mesa Community College in Arizona, and Jack Crittenden, professor emeritus of politics and global studies at Arizona State University, also take on the question of how to make democracy work. Their slim volume, Direct Deliberative Democracy, quotes but then departs from James Madison's Federalist Paper Number 10. Whereas Madison called for a system of "representation," the authors argue that now, more than ever, we need "direct democracy." They cite the...

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