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Democracy Matters

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  1,670 ratings  ·  158 reviews
In his major bestseller, Race Matters, philosopher Cornel West burst onto the national scene with his searing analysis of the scars of racism in American democracy. Race Matters has become a contemporary classic, still in print after ten years, having sold more than four hundred thousand copies. A mesmerizing speaker with a host of fervidly devoted fans, West gives as many ...more
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Published September 2nd 2004 by Penguin Audio (first published January 1st 2004)
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Jul 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: african-studies
In recent years, the distinguished Dr. Cornel West has attracted not a small amount of controversy over his message vs. his lifestyle. He has been attacked from both the far right and the far left for preaching his message of equality while sitting amongst the towers of the Ivy League. It certainly doesn’t help his case that he is a much desired speaker and has managed to make quite a good living for himself. I can understand the viewpoints of my fellow leftists who frown upon this, but I don’t ...more
Jun 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
This book taps into a sentiment Ive felt frequently, but one that isn’t easily explained. Outside of a re-education on the faults of our political atmosphere, this book speaks on the moral bankruptcy of modern life and the imperative for change. A “fight for the soul of America” if you will. But it isnt just some buzz worthy line one uses to get elected, its an ever present phenomenon. This isn’t an issue of the devout or the secular. It’s tentacles have sprouted from profit seeking and moderniz ...more
Jun 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Can any empire resist the temptation to become drunk with the wine of world power or become intoxicated with the hubris and greed of imperial possibilities? Has not every major empire pursued quixotic dreams of global domination- of shaping the world in its image and for its interest- that resulted in internal decay and doom? Can we committed democrats avert this world-historical pattern and possible fate?"

Soooo I have a stylistic and emotional appreciation to reading his insights on democracy

Here's the problem: I have nothing but the highest regard for Cornel West, his opinions, his political stances, his style, his everything.

I admire him completely and respect him as thinker.

The problem is...this book sucks. As in, threadbare and ranty and all-too-thin. I like his rants, you see, and I love how he just goes off.

It's just not nearly enough for me to be a satisfied reader. He introduces about a million topics, all mentioned in the summary above. All of them are interesting, fruitful
An enjoyable read, a bit preach at times and my eyes glazed over on the 2 chapters dealing with the major 3 religions. But aside from that a very accurate assessment of the world concerning democracy and its proponents as well as opponents from 2004, I would love to see West write another book about the Trump era with the advent of social media.
Apr 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, crt
In my late teens in the early '00s I was a shithead libertarian (& an ucs. racist) & when this book came out I hated Cornel West, mostly based on my hatred for the use of democracy as a floating signifier for liberal pieties & my sense of him, from a few fleeting media clips, as a shallow name-dropper. Eventually, my political values & analyses switched far to the left, I became critical & ashamed of my past politics (& ucs. racism), & I gained an appreciation for democratic theory & culture, bu ...more
Sep 11, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
His writing style is so much akin to Toni Morrison that I couldn't help but really like this book. Cornel West's impassioned analysis of the state of American democracy and society is sharp and evocative. Throughout the book he threads his philosophies together into a quilt colored by not only his words but also with the words and ideas of others like Socrates, Plato, Herman Melville, Toni Morrison, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ralph Ellison, Big Boi, and Chuck D. West does go off on a couple of persona ...more
Dec 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
West's work is good for the mind and the soul. I didn't agree with 100% of his arguments here (though I did with most), but even where I was critical I could still feel his beautiful, democracy-loving soul emanating from every page.
Douglas Grion Filho
Ugh I love Cornel so much. Honestly this book was meant for the general public, so the bare bones of what he says in this book were nothing new to me, though his way of saying it and his perspective and observations on certain things are far more eloquent than I could ever be. In this sense Cornel is great giver of language and insight, someone who can put into words what you already know (if youre already a lover of democracy in the truest sense of the word like he is). I also found myself disa ...more
Joe Labriola
Sep 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wide in scope but genuine in purpose, Cornel West's "Democracy Matters" offers a passionate and prophetic perspective on the essence of the American democratic experiment--emphasizing personal and societal self-assessment in the struggle to realize a more egalitarian future for all.
Sep 24, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another required reading. Such beautiful prose, though I have to admit I skimmed the long diatribes on Christianity. A little preachy in the section about Christianity and about his Harvard scandal, but thoroughly enjoyed the parts about Israel, hip hop, and Toni Morrison.
"The three most indigenous forms of democratic radicalism initiated by white males in the American democratic experiment - populism, progressivism, and trade unionism - made major contributions to taming the corruption, graft, and greed of plutocratic elites and corrupt politicians. The farmers-led populist movement was a backlash against the free market fundamentalism of "the money kings" and "the business princes" of the Gilded Age. It called for more democratic participation of rural prod
Randall Wallace
Sep 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the book of Cornel’s where you learn to subdivide Christianity into two kinds: Constantinian and Prophetic. The Romans co-opted the church when it couldn’t control it and it became a defanged tool of the state now known as Constantinian Christianity. Prophetic Christianity, on the other hand, draws on the prophetic legacy of Jesus: humility, loving your neighbors and helping the poor, etc. Christians who say yes to every war and proudly stand behind the guns of the state with the ripplin ...more
Yonis Gure
I reread this today in light of the whole West/Coates beef. It's amazing to me how Cornel West has somehow been able to fashion himself as an anti-imperialist and an anti-Zionist when this book is filled with the same kind of boilerplate, "let-me-satisfy-my-white-liberal-audience" fluff he taxes Coates for.

The linchpin, he writes on page 110, "to any resolution in the (Middle East) is an end to this unjust and ineffective occupation and the wholesale guarantee of Israeli security against barbari
Feb 17, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sociological
It's pretty rant-ish, his analysis is not terribly nuanced or original. It usually amounts to things like, gosh, did you know that capitalism produces a society where people pursue profit to the point that they are alienated from social/personal fulfillment. It's about as vanilla as leftist thought comes. That aside, the book does seem to come from a sincere effort to diagnose the American situation circa 2005. And as someone currently studying classics, it was nice to encounter lots of referenc ...more
Jeff Raymond
When I mentioned I was picking this book up, someone who I don't agree with often politically but deeply respect had mentioned he wasn't a fan. When I finished the book and talked about it with some folks, someone else who typically falls into West's ideological camp said it best - for someone of his academic stature, there sure are a lot of platitudes and not much meat to it.

I could go into a really long critique about why he's misguided/wrong. The issue with this is not so much that he's wrong
Feb 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In Democracy Matters, Prof. Cornel West from Princeton (and formerly Harvard until that episode with Larry Sumners) speaks of the reach democratic tradition in the country, and presents it as a way to fight the growing inequalities. He walks us poetically through the works of democratic beacons such as James Baldwin, Ralph Emerson Waldo, Toni Morrison, Herman Melville, and the democratic foundations (what he generalizes as "the prophetic" or the pursuit of justice) of the Jewish, Islamic and Chr ...more
May 31, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
West revisits the all the issues he addresses (and hasn't stopped addressing since) in "Race Matters." I enjoyed this one much more. Perhaps it's the cultural relevancy for me (I'm more in tune with the politics of the last twenty years than the previous twenty). It did feel like the writing was tighter here and a little more explanatory, which helped, but at the same time did not lose the musicality that is Cornel's speaking and writing.
Nov 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
p. 15 Cornel West makes vitally important points on our need to empower and inspire a democratic way of thinking and behaving,

p. 16 Socratic? Tikkun Olam, Hope

p. 19 I must read Checkhov after I finish el Quixote

p. 22 Nice citation of Walt Whitman qnd Modern Jim Crow ... "the way we fight"
Abby Dollarhide
Feb 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the most important and lyrical voices alive today.
Nov 09, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Jorge Bautista
Recommended to Ifreet_Mohamed by: Vicente
*I had to shorten this review.

The book is about the importance of Democracy, threats to Democracy, both in America and around the world interlaced with historical background and shared experiences. West declares that there are three nihilisms at work in American Democracy that need to be overcome: Evangelical nihilism, paternalistic nihilism, and sentimental nihilism.

These nihilisms lead to Imperialism as was the result in Iraq and Free-Market Fundamentalism, which is our Achilles heal parading
For the month of June I read Democracy Matters by Cornel West. In this book, West examines the current state of democracy not only in the United States, but in the Middle East as well. West admonishes the imperialistic attitudes, deeply rooted in American history, and which he argues, still stall the advancement of genuine democracy today. Particularly interesting is his discussion of American imperialism and race, and how imperialistic mentalities have historically marginalized and oppressed pe ...more
Ariel Achila
Oct 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As someone of the Opinion that good books hardly provide us with answers, but rather furnish us with the ability to ask better questions, I really loved the book for its simplicity and accessibility ,as it were. I love the types of questions I find myself asking, with a view to making my life a lifelong artistic project ;and being engaged in social matters as perhaps the biggest duty a patriot has. The book is not only relevant to American society (I am a Kenyan in Kenya) ,but also in any event ...more
Luke Stannard
This is an important book about American culture. It’s easy to forget where the parameters of democracy lie when concepts on either side of it become such taboos, like they have in America since WWII, the Vietnam war and the Iraq war. It’s easy to misunderstand where the idea of democracy came from in America when the norm becomes to consistently spend five times more money on military than any other country in the world. Cornel West writes from a deep understanding of American, Christian, Musli ...more
Oct 04, 2019 rated it it was ok
This is one of my least favorite Cornel West books. It is ostensibly a book about democracy, but it's actually mostly a rant about race (and separately, religion). It's unclear to me what he means by democracy (although I'm not a huge fan of what I understand to be democracy, myself; human rights are critical, but the system of representation for government is an instrumentality.)

His whole "argumentation style" is a mix of nice-sounding rant mixed with fairly out of context and over the top refe
Bill Glover
May 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Dr. West has a socio-political lens that is nuanced and open understanding and interpreting all sorts of subtle trends and influences. He wrote this one back when 'W' was stumbling through his eight years and Dr. West felt the need to remind us what the endpoint of the trend of political nihilism would be. He was right.
Also, it feels important to include current art into a theory about political interaction, as art is taking the pulse of the culture that births it. Even ephemeral cultural items
Oct 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The three central essays, one on the democratic tradition in america from emerson and melville to baldwin, morrison and beyond... wow. The forging of new Jewish and Islamic Identities, emphasizing the prophetic... and the essay on the crisis of christian identity in america... I was very impressed with this one. It's the essay I have been needing to read and wanted to write myself. Constantinian Christianity and prophetic christianity is a fantastic distinction that seems to successfully analyze ...more
Jan 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Cornel West is an excellent philosopher and humanitarian. He takes complex ideas and makes them approachable to the reader. I still regret not seeing him speak many years ago when I had the chance. Democracy Matters hits on all major areas that spark deeper discussion: religion (including the difference b/w the 2 Christian outlooks: prophetic & Constantinean), race, history, and political science. It's a little difficult to pin West down to one simple ideology because he is such a compassionate ...more
Dec 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: social-justice
West’s brilliant Bush-era analyses pull no punches. His analysis of U.S. imperialism shows the folly of believing that America is a paragon of democratic virtue. His exposé of the arrogance and intolerance within Christianity, Judaism, and Islam also delivers a strong message to which some would take offense. His appointment by Bernie Sanders to the 2016 DNC Platform Committee speaks to Sanders’ political courage. That the DNC adopted none of the major policy corrections proposed by West and his ...more
Aug 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although written in 2004, Cornel West's Democracy Matters can easily be read today and his points understood.

Three dominating, antidemocratic dogmas:
1. Free-market fundamentalism
2. Aggressive militarism
3. Escalating authoritanism

Three crucial traditions fuel deep democratic energies:
1. Socratic commitment to questioning...authority
2. The Jewish invention of the prophetic commitment to justice
3. Tragicomic hope is a profound attitude to life

From that opening Dr. West paints his tapestry of how w
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Cornel Ronald West is an American scholar and public intellectual. Formerly at Harvard University, West is currently a professor of Religion at Princeton. West says his intellectual contributions draw from such diverse traditions as the African American Baptist Church, Marxism, pragmatism, transcendentalism, and Anton Chekhov.

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You know the saying: There's no time like the present...unless you're looking for a distraction from the current moment. In that case, we can't...
4 likes · 1 comments
“To be a Christian - a follower of Jesus Christ - is to love wisdom, love justice, and love freedom.” 5 likes
“The blues is relevant today because when we look down through the corridors of time, the black American interpretation of tragicomic hope in the face of dehumanizing hate and oppression will be seen as the only kind of hope that has any kind of maturity in a world of overwhelming barbarity and bestiality. That barbarity is found not just in the form of terrorism but in the form of the emptiness of our lives - in terms of the wasted human potential that we see around the world. In this sense, the blues is a great democratic contribution of black people to world history.” 3 likes
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