In This Review

On Democracy
On Democracy
By Robert A. Dahl
Yale University Press, 1999, 224 pp

Dahl, this country's leading student of democratic theory and practice, has written an eloquent and concise summary of the great issues in democratic thought. He first explores the origins and contested meaning of democracy before examining the institutional dilemmas of modern democracies; the variations in constitutions, parties, and elections; and how institutions shape governance. Drawing on the successes and failures in this century, Dahl tries to pin down the conditions that favor the emergence of democracy before concluding with speculation on the fate of democracy in the coming century. Although he acknowledges the global spread of democratic ideals, he also counsels caution. Although the world has seen many democratic gains, democratic government has collapsed and given way to authoritarian rule more than 70 times this century. The creation of democratic government does not rest solely on institutional design but on democratic culture and traditions. And although market capitalism favors democratic institutions, globalization can shift power to firms and international bureaucratic elites that are not democratically accountable. The book might have been more useful had Dahl more fully explored this contradiction.