Everyone knows that democracy is in trouble, but do we know what democracy actually is? Political philosopher Jan-Werner Müller, author of the widely acclaimed What Is Populism?, takes us back to basics.
In this short, elegant volume, he explains how democracy is founded on three vital principles: liberty, equality, and also uncertainty. The latter, he argues, is crucial for ensuring democracy’s dynamic and creative character. Authoritarians, as well as Big Tech, seek to render politics (and individual citizens) predictable; democracy holds open the possibility that new ideas, movements and identities can be created.
Acknowledging fully the dangers posed by populism, by kleptocratic autocracies like Russia’s and by the digital authoritarianism of Xi, Müller also challenges the assumptions made by many liberals defending democracy in recent years. He shows how the secession of plutocratic elites in the West has undermined much of democracy’s promise. In response, we need to re-invigorate our institutions, especially political parties and professional media, but also make it easier for citizens to mobilize.
Taking on many of the most difficult political questions we face, this book is a vital rethinking of what democracy is, and how we can reinvent our social contract.
Jan-Werner Müller is Professor of Politics at Princeton University and the author of several books, most recently the critically acclaimed What Is Populism? He contributes regularly to London Review of Books, the Guardian, and the New York Review of Books.