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Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism Paperback – February 21, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


Winner of the 2008 Lannan Notable Book Award, Lannan Foundation

"[A] comprehensive diagnosis of our failings as a democratic polity by one of our most seasoned and respected political philosophers. . . . Democracy Incorporated is a devastating critique of the contemporary government of the United States--including what has happened to it in recent years and what must be done if it is not to disappear into history along with its classic totalitarian predecessors."--Chalmers Johnson, Truthdig

"[Democracy Incorporated provides] a rare, chilling analysis of intellectual critics of democracy. If democracy means more than occasional elections and protection of those rights that are compatible with economic and political elites' interests, Wolin's analysis of our democratic predicament is shocking, solid, and fundamentally correct."--C. P. Waligorski, Choice

"Sheldon Wolin has produced an ambitious and broad-ranging book that examines the current state of democracy in America. . . . Wolin argues that the unquestioned faith in the virtues of free market capitalism has dramatically narrowed the range of policy options that are on the table when debate turns to resolving the US's ills. . . .[T]his is a trenchant and powerful volume."--Alex Waddan, International Affairs

"Of the many books I've read or skimmed in the past seven years that attempted to get inside the social and political debacles of the present, none has had the chilling clarity and historical discernment of Sheldon S. Wolin's Democracy Incorporated. Building on his fifty years as a political theorist and proponent of radical democracy, Wolin here extends his concern with the extinguishing of the political and its replacement by fraudulent simulations of democratic process."--Jonathan Crary, Artforum

"[W]e need to understand the deep roots of our present troubles ourselves and Wolin's book is an excellent beginning."--Toby Grace, Out in Jersey

"Democracy Incorporated acts as an antidote to unconstrained corporate power and an elitist obsession and should be widely read by all those who cherish democracy and civil liberty."--Shih-Yu Chou, Political Studies Review

"[Wolin] provides a rich narrative of the struggle of elites and the demos from ancient Greece through the writing of the U.S. Constitution and into the present, and the corporate-managed politics that has emerged will survive no matter which party holds Congress or the presidency."--Coleman Fannin, Journal of Church and State

"Despite being written shortly before both the financial crisis and the Obama victory, the main lineaments of his analysis are still alarmingly cogent."--Tom Angier, Marx & Philosophy Review of Books

From the Back Cover

"With his fundamental grasp of political theory and restless spirit to get at the essence of what threatens modern democracy, Wolin demonstrates that the threats to our democratic traditions and institutions are not always from outside, but may come from within. It is a book that policymakers and scholars of contemporary society should read and reflect upon."--Rakesh Khurana, Harvard Business School, author of From Higher Aims to Hired Hands

"As we've come to expect from Sheldon Wolin, a tightly argued and deeply revealing book about the dangers of unconstrained capitalism for our democracy."--Robert B. Reich, University of California, Berkeley

"For half a century, Sheldon Wolin has been one of the most distinguished and influential political theorists in the United States and a perceptive observer of the American political scene. In his magisterial latest book, Wolin shows himself at the height of his powers as he presents a highly original, sober, and persuasive account of a number of tendencies in contemporary American society that constitute a significant danger for the future of constitutional democracy. If totalitarianism establishes itself in the United States, it will be in the 'inverted' form Wolin analyzes in this important book."--Raymond Geuss, University of Cambridge

"Wolin's writing has a resonance that binds the canon of political philosophy to unfolding events and present circumstances. In Democracy Incorporated, he contends that the institutions and practices that Americans regarded as their defense against totalitarianism--and other forms of authoritarian domination--have failed them. There is nothing like this book. It is a major, potentially revolutionary contribution to political thought."--Anne Norton, author of Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire

"Powerful and persuasive. Democracy Incorporated does exactly what great political theory should do: it provides a theoretical framework that allows the reader to see the political world anew. It left this reader with an almost nightmarish vision of American politics today, a nightmare all the more terrifying for being so compelling, so vivid, and so real."--Marc Stears, author of Progressives, Pluralists, and the Problems of the State


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; With a New preface by the author edition (February 21, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 069114589X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691145891
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #38,145 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

191 of 195 people found the following review helpful By L. Frederick Fenster, MD on June 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Author makes a compelling case that the direction of our contemporary politics is toward a political system that is the very opposite of what our leadership, the mass media, opinion leaders, think tanks etc. claim it is--ie, the world's foremost exemplary of democracy. The consummated union of corporate power and governmental power has resulted in an American version of a total system, which he calls "inverted totalitarianism." Unlike traditional totalitarianism (Nazi Germany, Stalin's USSR etc.) the American system of control is not to mobilize the populace, but to distract it, to encourage a sense of dependency (by cultivating fear, calling everything a "war,") and by actully encouraging political disengagement (claiming that our government, which is supposed to be democracy's agent for helping promote the common good, is actually the "enemy.") The destiny of the USA is fast slipping from popular control, while our citizenry shows little interest or concern.
A very provocative book.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a seminal work which "tells it like it is" concerning the current power arrangements in the American political system, as well as the political leadership's aspirations towards global empire. Prof. Wolin sets the tone of his work on page 1, with the juxtaposition of the imagery of Adolph Hitler landing in a small plane at the 1934 rally at Nuremberg, as shown in Leni Reifenstahl's "Triumph of the Will," and George Bush landing on the aircraft carrier "Abraham Lincoln" in 2003. Certainly one of the dominant themes of the book is comparing the operating power structure in the United States with various totalitarian regimes of the past: Stalinist Russia, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Prof Wolin emphasizes the differences between these totalitarian powers, and the softer concentration of power in the United States, which he dubs "inverted totalitarianism."

The book is rich with insights - the best way to savor Prof. Wolin's erudition is in small chunks. He shows the influence of the ancient Greeks, both Plato, as well as the Athenian political operative, Alcibiades, on the neo-cons "founding father," Leo Strauss. He examines in detail the efforts of some of America's own "founding fathers," particularly Madison and Hamilton, on how democracy should be contained and managed. He quotes at length an amazingly prescient passage from Tocqueville predicting one possible scenario for the future of the American democracy, which ends with "...and finally reduces each nation to nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd" (p79-80). He also discusses the profound impact of the "National Security Strategy of the United States" document of 2002 on the traditional vision of the values and rights expressed in the Constitution.
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71 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Robert Hagman on June 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
A great book; well argued. The influence of 'corporate America' on the body politic is, in my view, well beyond repeal and thus any semblence or vestiges of democracy salvageable. Although differing in form from the totalitarian regimes of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy and Spain, many of the substantive elements in governance common to these regimes can be found in present day America. Unlike the history and evolution or transition of these regimes in to totalitarian governments, the transition to an 'inverted' American totalitarianism has been qualitatively different - but nonetheless effective. All under the veneer and guise of a democracy.
This book should be required reading for all Americans.
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44 of 46 people found the following review helpful By John Baesler on June 2, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
At the end of a long, distinguished career as one of America's foremost political philosophers, Sheldon Wolin takes a hard look at the current political system in America and arrives at the profoundly uncomfortable conclusion that America has become a "managed democracy," where the will of the American people is effectively removed from political, social and economic decision-making. He sees the country firmly set on its way toward becoming a system of "inverted totalitarianism" where democratic institutions are only empty shells and "democracy' has become a myth which in practice is completely controlled by transnational corporate elites and their willing executioners. You think it can't happen here? According to Wolin, it already happened, if you carefully define what "it" is.

The term "Inverted Totalitarianism" addresses the obvious rejoinder many people might make: Isn't America still a democracy? Where was the Machtergreifung--the coup or takeover of power? Wolin asserts that it does not require brown shirts marching in the streets for a totalitarian takeover to take place. In Inverted Totalitarianism, the Fuehrer is the product of the system (George W. Bush), not the architect; it does not celebrate the state but uses an informal network of corporate and political power. Inverted Totalitarianism does not mobilize its populations (the way communism and the Nazis mobilized theirs) with endless parades and speeches, but it keeps them quiet with Reality TV and consumer culture; it does not require unanimity among the people, but fosters a splintering of public opinion, etc. Still, the end result is a de-fanged democracy, laying prostrate before a mighty corporate elite in love with its own power.
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