Most helpful critical review
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
With so many models, the reader might become confused
on October 7, 2012
Held maps different models of democracy, from the Athenian to the present liberal democracy. In chapters 2 and 3 he explains basic concepts, such as Republicanism, elective government, sovereignty, representation, and the general will. In chapter 3, Held also analyses the emergence of the present liberal democracy.
Chapter 4 is about direct democracy as opposed to representative democracy. One would expect this chapter to be related to the Athenian model but this is not the case. Held speaks about the Marxist/socialist and communist variants of democracy. No comparison is made between these models and the classical model.
Part II of the book consists of five chapters (5-9) relating to variants of democracy from the 20th century: elitism, pluralism, legal democracy, participatory democracy. Then there is a curious, short chapter (8) about the emerging democracies in Eastern Europe which raises many issues and leaves many questions unanswered. This chapter does not do justice to the complexity of the issues, and does not really shed ample light on the transformation, democratization, similarities and differences between the countries in Eastern Europe. It is the weakest chapter in the book.
Chapter 9 is about deliberative democracy. One would expect a comparative analysis between this model and the pluralist model. What Held offers is a succinct discussion (pp. 252-255) on value pluralism and democracy that only starts the analysis but is far from completing it.
The last part of the book consists of two chapters (10 and 11). It is titled What should democracy mean today? And it discusses democratic autonomy, democratic legitimacy and it returns to the question of sovereignty. Here Held posits the cosmopolitan model of democracy in which a global parliament connects regions, nations and localities.
This book is very interesting. It provides food for thought as well as ample criticisms. Held's dissections of democracy and the models he offers show just how complicated the concept of democracy, and the extent that it opens for interpretation. With so many models, the reader might become confused, especially when the differences and similarities between the different models are not explained carefully, or at all. Held has many thoughts but he attempted too much. With so many trees, it is difficult to see the forest. The book would be better served if Held were to offer a few models, explain them thoroughly, and compare them comprehensively.