Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve
The three authors have combined to produce a valuable addition to current political debate. Although only 97 pages in length, ‘Reconstructing Democracy’ is a source of very large ideas.
Societies in the West, here, in North America and Western Europe all exhibit signs of disenchantment with our liberal democracy. The rise of popularism, with the election of Trump, the threat of increased Nationalism signified by the near-election of Marine Le Pen in France, both underlie this dissatisfaction and a search for an alternative. They offer illusionary and discriminatory policies rooted in xenophobia.
The glaring disparity between the very wealthy and less fortunate continues to grow. The middle classes, once comfortably off, are suffering a dwindling quality of life. Their children may be well- educated after having incurred a sizeable debt, but yet search desperately and often vainly for jobs. Young millennials’ hopes of owning a house or, at best, living in secure housing, are also reduced compared with the previous generation.
Now, the book postulates, is the time for social democracy. This would help to solve the problem of inequalities today. Initially, this has to start from the bottom and move upwards.
To build a successful social democracy, there needs to be open discussion in the widest sense amongst an air of equality. Fear of changes that technology has wrought, mistrust of refugees, and Islamophobia complicate the issue and increase the need for people to feel they have more power or control in decision making.
One of the biggest problems in the light of global warming is the need to close coal mines. This is a huge blow to communities that, historically, not only have made a livelihood from producing coal, but their sense of identity is largely connected to this work.
To suggest this cease needs the exceptional talent and skill of who the French call an “animateur” (one who brings or enables life). This is a person who enters the community from outside. They have the ability to listen deeply and to gain understanding of the situation from the insiders’ point of view.
Together, new economic possibilities are identified. Inventories of skills and capacities of the local population are compiled which combines those they already possess and those they could acquire. The people who feel their way of life threatened must also freely express their needs and clarify aspirations.
Once they come together in this way, important change can happen which they find acceptable.
The book presents some steps that have been taken. Austria and parts of the US have involved people affected by radical change. Groups meet and put their ideas forward. Others convey this on the Internet. People who aren’t connected to the Web are often most threatened by loss of work, however, so their input is absent. This is a serious shortcoming.
More positively, Wisconsin offers free public transport to training sessions for those learning new skills.
Significantly, discussion and connection ideally occur if there is a hub, such as the Market Creek Plaza in San Diego. In the dense urban environment, this is often a challenge, but is an important base for moving forward in the hope of establishing the bonds of community.
A section of the book gives examples of attempts, particularly in America, which aim to involve the community or restructure a work force. There has been a general advance, but this highlights a need to institutionalise the process and generate legal frameworks for this community participation.
It is impossible to condense this little book into a review of a few hundred words, as it consists of a concise and practicable suggestions as to the direction in which Western Society should head. The authors have employed no excessive language. It provides a rich source of a range of instances where restructuring is underway. Examples which offer encouragement, goals and practicable ideas.
Many disillusioned people have called for a benevolent dictatorship as a better alternative to the fractured system we have today, but a restructure of the democratic society is presented as a viable and distinctly possible solution.
China, under authoritarian government, dealt swiftly with the 2020 pandemic whereas many in the democracies fared badly.
In the long term, the shortcomings of a dictatorial form loom large, so a better democracy, as outlined in this excellent book, is far more attractive.
“Reconstructing Democracy” could be a handbook, not just for those in the political arena, but for everybody concerned about the way we govern our lives and the future.
By Charles Taylor, Patrizia Nanz, Madeleine Beaubien Taylor
Harvard University Press.
ISBN 978 0 674 24462 7
97 pages; $35.99
Please use discount voucher code BCLUB20 at the checkout to apply the discount.