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The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  966 ratings  ·  120 reviews
A bold rethinking of the most powerful political idea in the world—democracy—as seen through the lens of the most transformative political movements of our time and the story of how radical democracy can yet transform America

Democracy has been the American religion since before the Revolution—from New England town halls to the multicultural democracy of Atlantic pirate sh
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Hardcover, 352 pages
Published April 9th 2013 by Spiegel & Grau (first published 2007)
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Kevin
Social Imagination 101: we need more accessible works that do not solely critique the status quo but also build social imagination for alternatives; how do we change the world if we cannot even imagine it?

The Good:
1) Revolutions as Transformations in Collective Common Sense:
--Nuanced analysis of history reveals the ebbs and flows of history instead of listing random events. Thus, we should appreciate that revolutions begin not on the fateful day(s) of uprising but much earlier the organizing in
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Mike Dillon
Apr 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: anarchism
I really enjoyed this book. It's almost like two books in one.

First, you get a fascinating inside account of the early days of the Occupy Wall Street movement, along with David's insights as to why the movement happened when it did, why it happened on the scale that it did, why the major public occupations ended when they did, and what the future may hold.

Along with that, you get a history and radical analysis of the roots of democracy that serves to shed light on some of the vexing questions ab
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Mehrsa
Aug 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I asked my friends for a recommendation for a book with big and smart ideas. This is what someone sent me and boy were there some big and smart ideas in here. At first, it reads like a history of the OWS movement so I almost gave up on it, but I am so glad I made it to the end. Just like his first book, Debt, this is a big idea rethinking of how the world works. Or more accurately, Debt is a rethinking of how the world has been run and this book rethinks how it could or should be run. He throws ...more
Riku Sayuj

This is an important work and I will review it over the weekend. In the meantime, I will leave this twitter conversation with David Graeber here. Should be useful.

Link to Conversation: https://twitter.com/RenegadeTramP/sta...

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Rob
May 24, 2013 rated it liked it
Compared to his monumental tome, Debt, David Graeber's The Democracy Project brings to light his weaknesses as a writer. For one, he is not one to sit down at a table with allusion nor metaphor.
It is a slow slog through the opening chapter as it's merely exposition: "I did this, then she did that, which made this happen." It is more Occupy Sweet Valley High than engaging reportage. Graeber neither builds a mood, nor hones in on the essential facts. A reader may stay with it, as I did, both out
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muthuvel
Before delving into the work a little about the writer himself as David Graeber is a professor of anthropology in London School of Economics, United Kingdom. He has done extensive works focusing upon the simple societies of Madagascar, Europe and North America, and has many relevant anthropological theories of value, money, magic, debt, political and social movements. Graeber has a history of social and political activism, including his role in protests against the World Economic Forum in New Yo ...more
Adam Ross
May 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: culture, politics
This might be my favorite popular work on direct democracy. Graeber is a scholar-activist who was one of the organizers of Occupy Wall Street. The book uses the Occupy movement, during the time it had camps all over the country, as a springboard for discussions about democracy itself. I wish I could underline everything in this book. Every page is replete with insights. The third chapter alone is worth the price of the book, which establishes the Founding Fathers as anti-democratic elitsts. Wash ...more
Edward Rathke
May 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: us-history
A fascinating account of Occupy Wall Street from someone who was often incorrectly labeled its leader. David Graeber takes us from the early meetings that would eventually lead to direct actions that would, somewhat unintentionally, begin the Occupy Wall Street movement. He then theorises on why this social anarchist movement became so widespread and popular, whereas so many previous ones failed. His answers there are surprising in that, in many ways, he sort of shrugs, though he does point to s ...more
Kate
David Graeber has written an extremely accessible book about, not only the origins and inner workings of the Occupy Wall Street/Occupy movement, but about the issues it brought to the fore. What exactly is democracy and what are the origins of the concept? What myths have we held about "freedoms"? What is equality? What are alternatives to our current repressive debacle of a political/economic system? The book also delineates strategies used by protest movements around the world.

This book affirm
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my name is corey irl
*airhorn* david gruber: WELCOME to democrarcy RELOADED (people's mic: reloaded... reloaded... reloaded...) *suddenly youre mind is blown by the sickest and most unexpeceted dubstep drop ever* ...more
Mila
Mar 06, 2020 rated it liked it
Ok, so I was deliberating between 2 or 3 stars and ultimately settled on 3. Mostly because a lot of the issues I had with this book was simply disagreeing with Graeber’s arguments rather than having an issue with how the argument is laid out. That is, Graeber is a very effective writer.

Graeber is at his strongest when he talks about economics and global finance. His discussions, while brief, about organizations like the IMF, as well as the role of Wall Street and finance in politics, is fairly s
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Philip Cherny
This book was not at all what I expected it to be, judging from its title and description. Based on what little I’ve heard from him in radio interviews and podcasts, David Graeber struck me as an intelligent scholar who challenges and proposes alternatives to our dysfunctional political system. Having grown disillusioned with the status quo (like most Americans), I hoped this book might offer pointed but thorough critiques of the American political system from an anthropologist’s perspective and ...more
Mothwing
Back in the day I half followed the Occupy movement, and then it suddenly just... disappeared from news coverage. There one day, gone the next. This book helps explain why.

It also looks at the development of democracy in the West and different forms of democracy. A lot of it is reassuringly common-sensical. The most interesting thing I took away from this is that elections/voting are essentially a public contest/spectacle and ought to be avoided in situations which require earnest cooperation a
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Clay Zdobylak
Jan 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
An enthralling book. The occupy movement was given more clarity, direct democracy and consensus assemblies were made tangible and replicable, and my desire to be a part of the American experiment has been intensely invigorated.
A must read if you feel confused and startled by our present political situation.
Emma Sea
Quick frame of reference: this is the guy who came up with the "99 percent" bit of the "We are the 99 percent". ¹

Unexpectedly enthralling. I nearly quit in the first chapter, when Graeber was all:

I'd begun reengaging with the New York activist scene when I'd visited the city during my spring break in late April. My old friend Priya Reddy, a onetime tree sitter and veteran eco-activist, invited me to see two of the founders of the Egyptian April 6 Youth Movement . . . the most important thing tha
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Josh
Jun 18, 2013 rated it did not like it
In critiquing the depressing history of central governments and their basis in claiming monopoly on the use of violence, Graeber excels. But the good is interspersed among inexplicably detailed descriptions of call and response tactics, hard to parse personal anecdotes of extremely specific figures within the circles he happens to be a part of, aggrandized accounts of how important it was that he was able to form a non-hierarchical general assembly within the general assembly of some hierarchica ...more
William
Jan 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant stuff as always. This is a more personal account of David Graeber's politics than Debt and his recent collection. It's great to hear so many thoughts kind of synthesized in a more personal way. I recommended this to a few radically minded students of mine, and I'm thinking about using some of these principles in my 5th block Oral Communications class (which has turned into something of an activist's course). I want to experiment and introduce the kids to horizontal organizational struc ...more
Ali
Jun 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book's a bit of a paradox.

Graeber's shredding of modern US democracy, its institutionalised bribery, rigged economy and militarisation, is all unimpeachable truth. He cuts through the bullshit with clear and original prose.

However, the sections on the internal workings of direct action movements evoke every cliche of moist-eyed activists so sensitive, neurotic and busy arguing about whether they're having an assembly or a meeting that they couldn't organise a revolution with a gyroscope.

To
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Matt
Jun 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics, anarchism
I had to give this five stars for being one of the most engrossing, informational, deeply-analytic books I've ever read. Graeber is incredibly intelligible and completely reconstructed my viewpoint on several rudimentary principles regarding government. As both an iconoclastic personal account and a history of democracy and the state, this succeeds inexorably. There were some sentences that felt a bit long-winded and took a couple re-reads to fully comprehend, but that's just a cavil that never ...more
Gavin
Nov 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
What is democracy anyway, and what does it have to do with the United States of America, and with modern politics? This book is a fantastic, well-reasoned and well-researched answer. Highly recommended to anyone ever.
Holly Wood
Oct 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
It's like what making out with justice feels like. ...more
Carl
Nov 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is the best I've yet come across as a user's manual for the practice of non-violent dissidence. Graeber was in the right place at the right time to be in the midst of Occupy Wall St. from beginning to end. He gives us the birds eye view of how it happened, how it succeeded, how it failed & how it persists. He describes the nature of political change, the forces arrayed which seek change & those which defend the status quo. He further tells us what freedom, democracy, anarchy, & non-hierarch ...more
Evren Kutar
May 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book helped me to reconsider about terms like democracy, republic, anarchism, etc. And my conceptions on those terms now is different. Along the way we live in our societies there are too many games on to manipulate and to distract how we see the world. If we didn't take a break and re-think what actually happens around us then we are lost. This book show me the path and reconstruct my belief in democracy. ...more
Grant
Nov 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Typical Graeber brilliance, what else can I say?
Paige
Feb 20, 2021 rated it really liked it
I heard Graeber speak in London several years ago and appreciated his political engagement and commitment to social change - and was sorry to learn that he recently passed away. Similarly, what I liked about this book is his creative revision of political history - the origin and nature of democracy. Unlike many theorists, he isn’t afraid to put bold proposals on the table (eg anarchism), while recognising they’re not perfect.
Hazel Bright
Apr 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Released in 2013, "The Democracy Project" may be the source for a lot of the language and ideas that have become endemic to the progressive movement. Graeber may well turn out to be one of a handful of people who defines our era, if humanity survives the bribocracy. ...more
Robin
Sep 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Inspiring, focused and clear-sighted, David Graeber combines a description of the key phase of Occupy Wall Street with explication of its - and his - premises and beliefs, always backed up by reasoned argument. This is more than a revolutionary pamphlet full of vitriol; it's a clear discussion of the problems faced by us all (well, 99% of us) with practical advice and critique of ways of overcoming them in ways that preserve vital principles of horizontality and avoid repeating the authoritarian ...more
Kent Winward
Mar 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Graeber's personal history of the Occupy movement was enlightening. I remember attending an Occupy meeting in my hometown of Ogden and being completely frustrated and flummoxed by the entire process. I didn't have the background provided by this book and I don't think many people there did either. Really what this book points out is the difficulty in organizing without really organizing. I get it for small groups, but larger more diverse populations present significantly more difficult problems. ...more
Gunnar
Jan 08, 2016 rated it it was ok
On mass production:
"It's not likely we will ever be able to undo a six-thousand-year-old innovation. Neither is it clear why we ever should. Large impersonal structures, like uniform products, will always exist."

"I actually don't think the technical aspects of coming up with how to produce and distribute manufactured objects is likely to be the great problem[....]"

On direct democracy (mass society anarchy?):
"It is often asked how direct democracy can 'scale up' from local face-to-face meetings t
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Lori
A good alternative to tired clichee analyses about the Occupy Wall Street movement: that they're leaderless, purposeless, bla, bla. Everyone heard this at some point or another.

The actual interesting thing that you barely hear about Occupy is that it is an actual incarnation of the propagandistic "democracy" the US is supposed to have. It is, in fact, a continuation of the true American democratic tradition, which has always been the enemy of the ruling elites. David Graeber does a great job in
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David Rolfe Graeber was an American anthropologist and anarchist.

On June 15, 2007, Graeber accepted the offer of a lectureship in the anthropology department at Goldsmiths College, University of London, where he currently holds the title of Reader in Social Anthropology.

He was an associate professor of anthropology at Yale University, although Yale controversially declined to rehire him, and his t
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15 likes · 1 comments
“What if freedom were the ability to make up our minds about what it was we wished to pursue, with whom we wished to pursue it, and what sort of commitments we wish to make to them in the process? Equality, then, would simply be a matter of guaranteeing equal access to those resources needed in the pursuit of an endless variety of forms of value. Democracy in that case would simply be our capacity to come together as reasonable human beings and work out the resulting common problems—since problems there will always be—a capacity that can only truly be realized once the bureaucracies of coercion that hold existing structures of power together collapse or fade away.” 13 likes
“The real origin of the democratic spirit - and most likely, many democratic institutions - lies precisely in those spaces of improvisation just outside the control of governments and organized churches.” 4 likes
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