Disease and Democracy: The Industrialized World Faces AIDS

In This Review

Disease and Democracy: The Industrialized World Faces AIDS

By Peter Baldwin
University of California Press, 2005
478 pp. $44.95
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Baldwin pursues his fascinating work on the politics of public health with this fine comparative study of policies adopted by developed nations to prevent and combat AIDS. Among many other paradoxes, he notes that states as different as the United States and Sweden took the most interventionist measures, whereas France and Germany "adopted a much more laissez-faire attitude." Ideology had far less to do with this contrast than what social scientists call "path dependence": the tendency to handle a new phenomenon with the methods used in apparently comparable situations in the past. Baldwin shows that public debates on the epidemic were politicized from the start, but in France, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom decisions on AIDS were "shifted off the political stage." Interestingly, he finds that "the epidemic helped integrate gays into society." Despite the progression of democracy in the post-Cold War era, Baldwin concludes, "any direct translation into a consensual approach to epidemic disease is hard to detect."