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Democracy May Not Exist, But We'll Miss It When It's Gone

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  496 ratings  ·  85 reviews
What is democracy really? What do we mean when we use the term? And can it ever truly exist? Astra Taylor, hailed as a "New Civil Rights Leader" (LA Times), provides surprising answers.

There is no shortage of democracy, at least in name, and yet it is in crisis everywhere we look. From a cabal of thieving plutocrats in the White House to rising inequality and xenophobia wo
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published May 7th 2019 by Metropolitan Books
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Nov 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020, recs
sheds light on so much, from the erosion of liberal democracy to the resurgence of mass movements fighting for alternatives, good and bad. this is a thoughtful meditation on the paradoxes lying at the heart of democracy, and one insightfully engaging with the work of leading radical thinkers (Cornel West, Wendy Brown, etc.).
David Wineberg
Jan 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Democracy May Not Exist, But We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone is a romp through the thought processes of Astra Taylor. I found it less disciplined than her previous The People’s Platform, and it doesn’t take a position, much less propose a course of action. It is nonetheless a well written, engaging and nearly comprehensive look at what we like to call democracy. She has watched the failure of democracy in modern Greece and America, first hand. And she has given great thought as to how it all falls ...more
Ryan Boissonneault
Jun 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
While democracy can be difficult to define and challenging to implement, the primary purpose can be stated as the prevention of minority powers from dominating majorities. The rule by one (monarchies and dictatorships), or the rule by few (aristocracies and oligarchies), gives disproportionate power to one person or a small group, allowing the minority group to impose their preferences on the majority, often at the majority’s expense.

Democracy, under the ideal of “one person, one vote,” is esta
Jan 18, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Highly recommend watching her companion documentary "What is Democracy?"
Found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1UYmx...

The book points out the illusory and paradoxical aspects of democracy and why it's such an elusive project to realize with anti-democratic forces in the world. She is a champion for the people and possesses a very impressive and refined perspective that is worth listening to to better understand the current state of things.

Jul 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book took me longer to read than most, because it's so dense--dense with ideas. Each sentence is pure and clear, but also packed with meaning. I finished it last night and woke up with two thoughts:

1) Either Astra Taylor is brilliant/well informed or I am woefully uneducated/ ill informed or, most likely, both.

2) I grew up hearing people say communism was a good system in theory but we had just never seen a good instance of it--they were all corruptions of the original idea. What this book
Shawn Gude
May 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: democracy
I’ve read a lot of books about democracy, but this is easily one of the best.
Jun 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites-6
6 out of 5. Astounding, astounding stuff.

I finished it, in terms of reading it front-to-back, about ten days after I started it -- but I've been paging through it again, over and over, since then. I'm not sure that I'll ever truly be 'done' reading it, and it's a testament to Taylor's insights and intelligence and just the sheer joy of her writing that the book was never a struggle to return to. This book radically restructured the way I think about the world. The bell cannot be unrung. I urge y
Joe Bambridge
Apr 10, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Quite surprised by the good reviews this has received. Without wanting to speak against Astra Taylor, who I know is a very acclaimed director and worthy activist, it is pretty basic and breaks very little new ground. The subject is worthy enough; democracy has fallen out of favour somewhat in socialist discourse in recent years. Given democratic victories for reactionary and authoritarian forces despite worsening inequality, a climate crisis, and at the time of writing, a global pandemic, leftis ...more
Christina Dongowski
Mar 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
From being the triumphant winner of the confrontation with the authoritarian socialist block and expecting a peaceful & prosperous forever present in the supposed “end of history”, not only the image of liberal democracy has deteriorated rapidly & has come under heavy assault from the anti-liberal & anti-democratic forces it’s harboured since (at least) the founding of the United States. With Astra Taylor’s book you learn that Trump is not an unfortunate accident, but a consequence of anti-democ ...more
Feb 24, 2019 rated it liked it
Summary: Explores what we mean when we speak of democracy, argues that real democracy has never existed, and explores the balance of paradoxes or tensions inherent in the idea of democracy.

All kinds of people toss around the language of democracy. We may contend that part of American greatness is its democratic institutions. A movement toward democracy has offered hope for many countries. The official name of North Korea is The Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Astra Taylor poses the questi
Jim Razinha
Mar 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: review-copies
I received an Advance Reader's Edition of this in January for review from the publisher, though it was published in January, 2019 (systems being systems, my approved request was in November but it didn't arrive until the end of January.) My copy had numerous editorial errors of missing words and similar, and the Notes section was incomplete, but I hope the former were corrected in the final copy and I expect the latter completed. Right from the start in her Introduction, Ms. Taylor hits her main ...more
Jul 28, 2021 added it
Shelves: philosophy
Still lots of highlights and notes and thoughts to process, but overall this is really great. I loved the approach Astra Taylor took to tackling some of the tensions that exist when we think of democracy and how we'd like to push the direction of our political institutions and policies.

There are times when the tensions seem irresolvable, though I think Astra Taylor does an effective job of arguing that some of these tensions are false dichotomies. To her credit, Taylor maintains an elegant equi
David Dinaburg
Jul 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Criticizing something—particularly on the internet—requires a lot more work than praising it. Throughout the first chapter of Democracy May Not Exist, But We’ll Miss it When it’s Gone, I began to fret as I considered how many notes I might need to take. In part because I came into the book already in agreement with the tacit thesis—“The problem with foreign oligarchs isn’t that they’re foreign, but that they’re oligarchs.”And in part because the twitter-blasted landscape I call my mind kept focu ...more
Mar 21, 2020 rated it liked it
I think this book was a disappointment because I was expecting a clearer description of both how democracy has failed and also succeeded and how we would, indeed, miss it when it's gone. But this book is more a leftist meditation on the philosophy of democracy, leftist in that the solutions are inevitably - anything but neoliberalism. I learned some things that stuck when me though, for instance, that ancient Athenians rejected elected representatives as popularity contests in favor of lotteries ...more
Mar 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"I would never deny that history provides mountains of evidence to fuel a fatalist inclination to failure - our legacy brims with horrors. But the past abounds with counter evidence, deep veins of conviction and ample fodder to maintain morale, a second legacy of compassion, courage, tenacity, vision, solidarity and strategy. Prior struggles and victories put the present in perspective. Who am I, writing these words on a portable computer (in my living room and not a prison cell, no less), to im ...more
Jan 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I think this book is really important. Everyone should read it. While a lot of her discussion focuses on the history and current government of the United States, she does have a number of international examples. Her explanation of the Greece situation was excellent. It's important to understand that there is no clear finish line, a 'democracy accomplished' moment. Her embrace of the paradoxes of democracy was nuanced and refreshing. Everyone should read it! ...more
Ricardo Nuñez
Mar 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was an enjoyable if difficult book to get through. Enjoyable because of the insights laid out in practical examples and from regular people (workers, school children, refugees, etc). Difficult because of its expansiveness and that every few pages was a new story, so it was difficult to tease the narrator arch at times. Still, it was profound and lyrical. A necessary read for anyone interested in knowing the complexities and contradictions of democracy in action.
Jul 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
An absolutely amazing book from one of the best voices on democracy and politics today. Taylor gives us an incredibly well researched and thought out discussion of what democracy means, how it works today, the flaws we see in liberal democratic societies, and what modern movements for direct democracy and workplace democracy look like. If we imagine a democratic vistas as the core of a just and inclusive vision of human society, we will need to radically re-imagine what democracy means for our p ...more
Jun 08, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: junk
Taylor chains slogans to mimic the appearance of reason. Overall the text is extremely racist and narrow, without excelling even at this. Take the first paragraph:

> In 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, people everywhere cheered the dawn of a new democratic age. The free world had triumphed over the unfree and was now in ascendance. The liberal doctrine of individual rights, periodic elections, and consumer abundance appeared both irresistible and unstoppable.

"People everywhere" is code word for w
David Gomez
Jul 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
There is no definition, practices, rules or set standards that can be put in place that constitute democracy. It means many things to many people, and, like freedom, democracy is a constant struggle. Historically, we have sadly seen democracy used as the ostensible justification for occupation, war and even ethnic cleansing. In this book, Astra Taylor explores what democracy really is, what it can be, and suggests why, in its various shapes and forms, it is foundational to creating a better soci ...more
Jul 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Astra Taylor's DEMOCRACY MAY NOT EXIST didn't break a ton of new ground for me, but it was excellent nevertheless in the way it collected and rehearsed left-wing analysis. I loved the series of clarifying questions through the lens of tensions inherent in democracy: coercion/choice, spontaneity/structure, present/future. It felt quick and necessary. ...more
Aug 05, 2019 rated it liked it
1. Athenians has real democracy (for males non-slaves non-foreigners anyway). They consider freedom and equality to be inseparable, because with economic inequality comes political inequality. Yet Plato and Aristotle despised democracy.
2. American democracy was more limited, to land-owning white men. The War of independence happened because 1) the Brits wanted to tax to be used to halt settler appropriation of native land; and 2) the Brits just outlawed slavery. These developments ‘upset’ peopl
Aug 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, democracy
I like the paradox / tension framework, and I like the ones she picked (even if I might have added independence / solidarity, i.e. the ability to go off and do your own thing vs. having to stick it out and work with people you don't agree with). That said, I think Taylor used some of them as light cover for editorializing or digression. For example, the coercion vs. choice chapter is almost exclusively focused on the coercive power of capitalism vs the power of violent coercion invested in the s ...more
Tonstant Weader
May 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Democracy May Not Exist, but We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone is one of those books you might want to get in its physical form so you can shove it full of bookmarks, highlight sentences, write notes, stick little sticky arrows to note something special, and generally leave it in unfit condition for anyone but you, but that will be okay because you will be going back to it again and again whenever you want to argue about something. Yes, it’s that good.

Astra Taylor does the difficult job examining dem
Dec 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobooks
The book starts off with the question: what is democracy? 🤔

I think the book does a great job analyzing democracy as a balance of paradoxes:
- freedom and equality
- conflict and consensus
- inclusion and exclusion
- cohesion and choice
- expertise and mass opinion

One of the key themes of the book is: "freedom requires political equality which requires social equality and economic egalitarianism."

It is shown how neo-liberal capitalism and globalization has dominated the modern world, and exacerbated
J Earl
Feb 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Democracy May Not Exist, but We'll Miss It When It's Gone from Astra Taylor is a sweeping assessment of what democracy is, was, and could still be. Additionally, she does not make the mistake many writers, and reviewers, make of thinking that discussions about aspects of a democracy other than elections and legislation are in some way not also about democracy.

Michel Foucault famously advocated for a distinction between doing work as an public intellectual and in doing work as an activist or one
Mar 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
**Free book alert! I received this Advanced Readers Copy in return for an honest review.**

Just like 328,330,000+ other humans, I live in America, a country that is equivalent to an insecure male who constantly brags about his size and abilities as though he's god's gift to the planet. One of our greatest successes is being the world leader in democracy, spreading it across the world like heroes. We bathe in freedom and get capitalist facials, while ignoring the overwhelming flood from pipes burs
Nick Klagge
Sep 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
As an aside, I checked out this book from my library on "3M Cloud Library," which I heartily anti-recommend. On top of the annoyance of only being able to read on my phone, the reading interface is clunky and very slow, not nearly as good as even the Kindle phone app. However! This book was good enough that I persisted in reading, when I think I would have given up on many other books.

I wasn't certain how strong of a book this would be since it seems to be a companion piece to Taylor's recent do
Erhardt Graeff
This is the companion book to Astra Taylor's excellent documentary What is Democracy? Many of the interviews, historical references, and scenes are fleshed out here and organized around a more pointed argument than the documentary offers. Where the film pursues curiosity about the true meaning of democracy and how it is meant to function through the lenses of historical definitions and contemporary history, Taylor's book explores many of the tensions inherent to democracy to help us understand i ...more
Mar 29, 2020 rated it liked it
An extremely thought provoking and interesting book, I feel that it is probably phenomenal for a politically minded book club to spark discussion, but it ultimately suffers from trying to tackle too big a subject in too few pages.

I can’t blame her. Taylor has a big project: a complete history of the concept of democracy. All of it’s flaws and contradictions on full display. Taylor believes that a true democracy has never existed and may not even be truly possible, but that it is an ideal that mu
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Astra Taylor is a writer, documentary filmmaker, and activist. Her films include Examined Life, and her books include The People’s Platform.

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As the final days of the year tick themselves off the calendar, the 2022 Goodreads Reading Challenge is coming to a close. Sincere...
114 likes · 92 comments
“When I look at all the forces aligned to roll back and block democratic change--the concentration of wealth, the structures of minority rule, the market imperative of endless growth, the seemingly irrepressible appeal of racism, and the rapidity of climate change--I feel my will weaken. Given the magnitude of the task at hand, how can people like me possibly make a dent? The established order is so big and powerful, and a single individual so vulnerable and small. But when I engage my intellect, something approaching optimism is possible. The past is proof that it can be done,” 2 likes
“The problem with foreign oligarchs isn't that they're foreign, but that they're oligarchs.” 1 likes
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