THERE ARE some shocks in John Keane’s latest book, The Life and Death of Democracy. First, he punctures the “democracy started in Athens” myth – “assembly democracy,” he writes, was practised much earlier and further east. But a bigger jolt comes from his thesis that democracy did not emerge as an historical inevitability. It was an invention at a certain time and place, not a natural state of human power-sharing. And its survival as a system of government in the twenty-first century is far from secure.
John Keane is Professor of Politics at the University of Westminster and the Wissenschaftszentrum in Berlin. He took part in a debate, “Does Democracy Have a Future?”, at the 2009 Melbourne Writer’s Festival, where Peter Clarke spoke with him about democracy’s surprising past, challenging present and uncertain future.
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