Getting People to Be Responsible Citizens

A review of
Attention Deficit Democracy: The Paradox of Civic Engagement
(Author: Ben Berger)

The aim of expanding civic engagement has typically been promoted in top-down fashion. Ben Berger chides academics about this, and he advocates a more realistic view of citizens’ attention as well as more pragmatic strategies. The requisite framework is to observe citizens’ tastes, to find ways to get them to pay attention to political issues; and, when attention is secured, to mobilize their energy. Within this framework, he proposes three general solutions.

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Alternatives to our “Zombie Democracy”

A Review of
How Democracy Ends (Author: David Runciman)

David Runciman is a bit scornful and pessimistic about contemporary democracy, though not without good reason. And he is Head of the Department of Politics and International Studies at Cambridge University, so his new book How Democracy Ends is no mere journalist’s screed. Thankfully, he does not believe that US democracy is about to be overthrown by coup or fascism (a thesis that has helped other recent authors sell a lot of books.) Rather, he foresees democracy as ineffectively bumbling on, in a kind of “half-life” democracy that could continue existing for a long time.

Runciman does admit to risks of what he refers to as “executive aggrandizement,” where public passivity enables an elected strongman to chip away at democracy by bullying democratic institutions, while still paying lip service to democracy. (Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan is an example that comes to mind.) Of our current passivity, Runciman writes:

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Americans are Conservative and Liberal

A Review of
Ideology in America (Authors: Christopher Ellis and James Stimson)

This is an interesting but difficult book. Well-argued via painstaking survey data analysis, Ellis and Stimson’s central thesis is that most people like liberal policies and solutions, and most people prefer conservative symbols. It’s not so obvious what anyone outside of political science research can do with this, but let’s think about it.

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