In This Review

The Construction of Democracy: Lessons from Practice and Research
The Construction of Democracy: Lessons from Practice and Research
By Jorge I. Dominguez, Anthony Jones
John Hopkins University Press, 2007, 272 pp

In this useful collection of essays on the "design" of constitutional democracies, scholars distill a huge amount of knowledge about the institutional characteristics of well-functioning democracies and highlight the choices that struggling democracies face. Together, the essays offer an elegant vision of the necessary principles and best practices for building democracy. Along the way, several of the authors also stress what may be obvious but is nonetheless important -- namely, that the way democratic rule should be crafted in transitional societies depends on the unique cultural, economic, geographic, and historical context. The larger implication of these essays is that democracy is not simply or even primarily about elections; it is about fostering political community and other elements of the wider socioeconomic system -- political parties, media, civic associations, religious groups, business, labor -- so as to constrain power, give voice to all citizens, and provide the foundation for capable, rule-based government. Essays by former leaders of Brazil, India, and Portugal provide practical views -- including the essential point that for democracy to flourish it must not only protect liberty but also satisfy the economic and spiritual aspirations of citizens.