Reforming Democracies: Six Facts About Politics That Demand a New Agenda

Douglas A Chalmers, Author
Douglas A. Chalmers. Columbia Univ., $29.50 (192p) ISBN 978-0-231-16294-4
Reviewed on: 12/10/2012
Release date: 01/01/2013
Paperback - 192 pages - 978-0-231-16295-1
Open Ebook - 191 pages - 978-1-306-31086-4
Ebook - 191 pages - 978-0-231-53105-4
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This illuminating examination of the challenges faced by democracies looks beyond the usual culprits. Columbia University political science professor Chalmers identifies six less-discussed aspects of democracies that must be addressed before true, meaningful reforms can occur. First, he proposes that governments take into greater account the wide variety of noncitizens, or “quasi-citizens,” living and working under their watch, from undocumented immigrants to foreign-owned companies. Despite typically lacking the citizen’s traditional power of the vote, quasi-citizens can still exert their own forms of influence on decision making in their host countries. To the concerns of quasi-citizens, Chalmers adds other nations and outside international organizations to his list of the nonvoters that a democracy must routinely take into account. Also key to the book’s conception of democracy are the personal networks that invariably form around leaders, often exercising even more influence over policy than formal structures like political parties and bureaucracies. Understanding the biases inherent in such networks, Chalmers suggests, can help policymakers avoid mistakes such as the tight-knit Bush administration’s rush to war with Iraq. Well written and thoughtful, this book should provoke conversations among those seeking changes to an imperfect system. (Jan.)
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