Of the People, By the People: A New History of Democracy

Osborne, Roger

'Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.' Churchill had more reason than most to rue the power of democracy, having been thrown out of office after leading Britain to victory in 1945. Democracy, when viewed from above, has always been a fickle master; from below it is a powerful but fragile friend. Most books on democracy focus on political theory and analysis, in a futile attempt to define democracy. For Of the People, By the People takes the opposite approach, telling the stories of the different democracies that have come into existence during the past two and half millennia. From Athens to Rhaetia, Jamestown to Delhi, and Putney to Pretoria, the book shows how democratic systems are always a reflection of the culture and history of their birthplaces, and come about through seizing fleeting opportunities. Democracy can only be understood through the fascinating and inspiring stories of the peoples who fought to bring it about. The book raises profound questions about whether democracy is the engine of prosperity, or a luxury that only the prosperous can afford; and whether its assumption that good government arises from mass participation is an illusion. By giving the individual histories of different democracies, the book shows that real and lasting democracy always arises from beneath, and needs a process of never-ending communal creativity to sustain itself.

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