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

4.30  ·  Rating details ·  181 ratings  ·  45 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
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published May 7th 2019 by Metropolitan Books
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David Wineberg
Jan 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Democracy May Not Exist, But Well Miss It When Its Gone is a romp through the thought processes of Astra Taylor. I found it less disciplined than her previous The Peoples Platform, and it doesnt 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 majoritys expense.

Democracy, under the ideal of one person, one vote, is
Shawn Gude
May 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: democracy
Ive read a lot of books about democracy, but this is easily one of the best. ...more
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
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
I read this book as a supplement to the author's documentary on democracy and its relevance in the current order AKA late-stage capitalism. The author explores democracy from ancient Athens to the present and sees many of the same forces and critiques arrayed against it namely that wealth and inequality lead to strife which in turn lead to demagogues which turn democracies ultimately into tyrannies. There is definitely a very strong tension between wealth hierarchies and hierarchy in general ...more
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
Jim Razinha
Mar 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
David Dinaburg
Jul 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Criticizing somethingparticularly on the internetrequires a lot more work than praising it. Throughout the first chapter of Democracy May Not Exist, But Well Miss it When its 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 thesisThe problem with foreign oligarchs isnt that theyre foreign, but that theyre oligarchs.And in part because the twitter-blasted landscape I call my mind kept focusing in on ...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
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 its harboured since (at least) the founding of the United States. With Astra Taylors book you learn that Trump is not an unfortunate accident, but a consequence of ...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 ...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
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!
Ricardo Nunez
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 ...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
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 ...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 people
Tonstant Weader
May 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Democracy May Not Exist, but Well Miss It When Its 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, its that good.

Astra Taylor does the difficult job examining
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
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
Joel Paine
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 cant blame her. Taylor has a big project: a complete history of the concept of democracy. All of its 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 must
Jun 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Deceptively simple and readable, what makes Astra Taylor's book so good is the author's refusal to resolve the paradoxes of democracy. Each chapter explores a tension between, for example, coercion/choice, equality/liberty, local/global, and present/future. Rather than coming down on one side, Taylor examines how the tension has been addressed by historic figures and is seen in contemporary politics. She pays special attention to ancient and present Greece, Black and Indigenous thought, and the ...more
Aug 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is not always the easiest book but it is an extremely important book. After I heard Astra Taylor's interview on The Ezra Klein Show I immediately bought this book. I really appreciated how she talked about democracy with Ezra and this book did not disappoint at all. I love how she takes a stab at viewing democracy from many different angels. Taylor is not afraid at all to go on seeming tangents that wander but always lead back to the trail and are better for having veered off in the first ...more
Dan Sumption
Nov 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
There are no perfect democracies, except perhaps among honey bees (although pirates and the Haudenosaunee confederacy perhaps come closest). In this book, Astra Taylor discusses the various axes along which any potential democracy must position themselves: Freedom/Equality, Conflict/Consensus, Inclusion/Exclusion, Coercion/Choice, Spontaneity/Structure, Expertise/Mass Opinion, Local/Global, and Present/Future. In each category she cites numerous illuminating examples from throughout time and ...more
Mike  Davis
The author works through the definitions, ideals, flaws, changes and threats to democracy. It is both optimistic and pessimistic in confronting the ongoing problems of today's societies and the opposing forces of oligarchy, capitalism and other threats to equitable rule and fairness for all.

The book is not "easy" reading, but well worth the effort to hear her voice. It gives all of us pause to consider where we are and where we might be heading environmentally, politically and economically. It
Jan 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An excellent book that I recommend everyone to read. It provides articulate, practical explanations of progressive political theory.

If you're a progressive, this book will have clear words for abstract concepts that seem to fight against simplicity.

If you're not progressive, this book will show progressive theory at their best, rather than the barrage of strawmen often seen in social media.

Taylor grounds her book with classical, Greek theorists, and provides new descriptions of Plato and
Thomas Petri
Apr 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Full discloser, I have not finished this book, I find it stimulating. It is a thoughtful and well written book that has me questioning my ideas and the ideas we live by. So as I read I pause to consider the ideas presented and my thoughts about them. Do I have questions, does the author back up the information or do I have facts that agree or disagree with her facts and ideas. It will take me a long time (well spent) to get the most out of this book.
I received this book from the publisher thru
Sep 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I do enjoy books like this, that tackle complex topics and do so while not simplifying it. Astra Taylor discusses aspects of democracy and shows us that there are trade-offs, there are positive aspects to things we would often see as negative ideas (coercion). There are no easy solutions, but a book like this opens us to having the conversations that are needed as we face the likely future issues with American democracy.
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Astra Taylor is a writer, documentary filmmaker, and activist. Her films include Examined Life, and her books include The Peoples Platform. ...more

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“The problem with foreign oligarchs isn't that they're foreign, but that they're oligarchs.” 0 likes
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