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Radical Democracy Paperback – July 2, 1997

4.7 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Lummis insists that the hope of global democracy rests on faith in our fellow human beings. The move to embrace this faith conquers cynicism and gives one hope and the ability to act."―Thomas Harrison, The Nation

"The strongest point of Radical Democracy is Lummis' finely balanced attitude of detachment and commitment that nurtures a generosity of spirit expressed in a direct and attractive prose style."―Michael A. Weinstein, Society

"This is a book that deserves to be read by economists, both faculty and students, especially those adhering to a radical political position."―Michael Keaney, Glasgow Caledonia University. Review of Radical Political Economics, Vol. 32, 2000

From the Back Cover

C. Douglas Lummis reminds us that democracy literally means a political state in which the people (demos) have the power (kratia). The people referred to are not people of a certain class or gender or color. They are, in fact, the poorest and largest body of citizens. Democracy is and always has been the most radical proposal, and constitutes a critique of every sort of centralized power. Lummis distinguishes true democracy from the inequitable incarnations referred to in contemporary liberal usage. He weaves commentary on classic texts with personal anecdotes and reflections on current events. Writing from Japan and drawing on his own experience in the Philippines at the height of People's Power, Lummis brings a cross-cultural perspective to issues such as economic development and popular mobilization. He warns against the fallacy of associating free markets or the current world economic order with democracy and argues for transborder democratic action. Rejecting the ways in which technology imposes its own needs, Lummis asks what work would look like in a truly democratic society. He argues us to remember that democracy should mean a fundamental stance toward the world and toward one's fellow human beings. So understood, it offers an effective cure for what he terms "the social disease called political cynicism".

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press; 1st New edition edition (July 2, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801484510
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801484513
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,184,435 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Lummis, who has taught in Japan for years, has unfortunately not been much heard from in the U.S. and the West generally until the publication of Radical Democracy. I'm no fan of political science normally -- too often the author has a theory to push or a political stance to defend at some cost, usually including common sense -- but I re-read Lummis's book at least once a year to unstuff my head of Newspeak and doubletalk and cynicism. He cuts through sloppy and wishful thinking with clear and approachable prose, and I'm grateful to be able to recommend this book to anyone who values honest thinking about what power in the hands of the people means and has meant historically. Lummis does not trot out new solutions for real problems so much as return us to the roots -- hence his title. "How to democratize any particular antidemocratic organization -- a kingdom in south Asia, a communist country in eastern Europe, a banana plantation in the Third World, a multinational corporation in a capitalist country -- is a question that can be answered in concrete form only through the process of democratic struggle with each such organization. In this sense, radical democracy is different from utopianism. It does not seek to impose a preconceived model; such impositions always turn out to be antidemocratic, however `democratic' the model itself may be. It means a struggle carried out on democratic principles, a process from which new forms of organization emerge. Such a struggle can be begun in any organization, at any economic or technological level."

Lummis's critique of economic development as a process often carried on in highly undemocratic and ultimately destructive ways is perhaps the heart of his book. Yet he is no reactionary or Luddite.
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Format: Paperback
First things first, Lummis is not going to offer any prescriptions or solutions, and he is using "radical" meaning "straight from the source." Thus, "Radical democracy, taken in this sense...[is] the vital source of energy at the center of all living politics." He spends the first 30 pages discussing this word "radical" and what it does and doesn't mean, and how many concepts and institutions commonly regarded as "democratic," really aren't. The next 30 pages are spent on "antidemocractic development," a powerful chapter exposing the power-skewing effects inherent in development economics. Next is 30 pages on "antidemocratic machines," which seeks to explain how technology has ordered human work in ways that are inherently undemocratic. Then follows 30 less invigorating pages in which Lummis examines what he calls "democracy's flawed tradition," namely Athens in the Age of Pericles, and the Roman Republic. The aim of this chapter is to explore the West's two main exemplars of democracy and reconsider them in light of radical democracy. Basically, all of this is aimed at dispelling contemporary complacent notions (myths) about what democracy really is. Lummis is vehement in telling the reader that democracy is not the presence of this procedure, or that institutions, or any combination thereof, "Democracy is essential politics, the art of the possible." It ebbs and flows, but it cannot be contained and sustained, it must be constantly struggled for. This is a powerful notion, one that clearly is at odds with mainstream political philosophy, but one that deserves careful consideration.
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Format: Hardcover
Lummis' 'Radical Democracy' is one of these rare books where you can feel during the read that your perception of the world changes. Things which you thought about before, but couldn't quite figure out, suddenly appear in beautiful clarity. The book is written in beautiful, clear, easy-to-understand prose and the author is very apt at translating concepts he is trying to explain into telling examples. But more than these formal things counts what Lummis has to say: he does away with all those ideological myths with which we have surrounded the concept of democracy so that it does fit our inherently, structurally undemocratic world system. Lummis takes the concept back to what it really means: power to the people. This is the highest possible form a society can take, it is self-determination of people over their own lives. Lummis then shows how little our current world has to do with this concept, determined as it is by an economic system (capitalism) which is structurally, inherently and necessarily antidemocratic. The best part of the book is when Lummis takes apart, bit by bit, the ideology of (economic) development. This book, in short, is an absolute must for every body remotely concerned about human freedom, self-determination, justice and sustainable society.
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