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A Preface to Democratic Theory
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A Preface to Democratic Theory

3.54 of 5 stars 3.54  ·  rating details  ·  61 ratings  ·  8 reviews
Robert Dahl’s Preface helped launch democratic theory fifty years ago as a new area of study in political science, and it remains the standard introduction to the field. Exploring problems that had been left unsolved by traditional thought on democracy, Dahl here examines two influential models—the Madisonian, which represents prevailing American doctrine, and its recurrin ...more
Paperback, 200 pages
Published September 15th 2006 by University Of Chicago Press (first published June 28th 1956)
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Billie Pritchett
Robert Dahl's Preface to Democratic Theory is not an enjoyable read but it is nevertheless an important work in political science. The book's not enjoyable because it suffers from being a product of its time, and in its time it seemed necessary to approach the social sciences like the more mathematically rigorous sciences. That often meant, for example, using graphs and charts to little to no avail in the way of increasing explanatory power of the theory being advanced, and also couching the lan ...more
Erik Graff
Nov 29, 2014 Erik Graff rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: students of American political science
Recommended to Erik by: my professor
Taking my first, and last, political science course at Grinnell in the sophomore year, I was introduced to Robert A. Dahl, proponent of a pluralist model to explain the functioning of representative government in the USA. Unfortunately, he was not introduced in the context of his debate with C. Wright Mills and G. William Domhoff, the first of whom I had already read and the second of whom I would have liked. Dahl himself, a proponent of political science as just that, a science, adduces a stong ...more
"One of the difficulties one must face at the outset is that there is no democratic theory -- there are only democratic theories." (1)

"[T]he 'Madisonian' theory of democracy is an effort to bring off a compromise between the power of majorities and the power of minorities, between the political equality of all adult citizens on the one side, and the desire to limit their sovereignty on the other." (4)

"If majority rule is mostly a myth, then majority tyranny is mostly a myth too. For if the major
Dave Kinkead
Dahls introduction of the boundary problem, what he calls 'the problem of the unit' and 'the problem of inclusion' is probably the major contribution of this book
It gets worse with every re-reading. I think I am going to use the introduction and first chapter as a compare/contrast exercise with the Federalist Papers. Dahl dismisses them as "propaganda" but needs them here to start his project. I think it'll be a good exercise for an upper-division American political theory course.
Jamie Deal
If you can stay awake while reading it, and I struggled to do so, you'll find a good critique of Madisonian theory and top analysis of America's democratic system.
Well written, thorough and insightful. Easy to read
Elizabeth Trout
the begining confused me
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Robert Alan Dahl is the Sterling Professor emeritus of political science at Yale University, where he earned his Ph.D. in political science in 1940. He is past president of the American Political Science Association and an honorary member of Manuscript Society. He received an honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) degree from Harvard University in 1998.
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