Beginning with a frontal attack on the liberal democratic theory, which is grounded on and ramified from epistemological premises that are largely pre-historical and pre-theoretical, and stretching to the practical propositions aiming and helping to create a new sense of citizenship and community, Barber produces a masterpiece that can be perused over and over again. Well cognizant of the problems created by the heavy emphasis of liberal democratic theory on atomized individualism, through which social system is deemed not more than the competing atoms who are presupposed in permanent fight to all others, Barber packages his arguments in a highly pragmatic bag that goes far beyond the kind of demagogic platitude.
I read a number of books whose focus is on how to develop a strong democracy in both national and grass-roots levels, some of which are set on either pure theory or practice lacking ideational power. Strong democracy discerns itself from those that were written in the similar veins in that Barber knits all his arguments together cleverly based on both epistemological and practical weaknesses of what he objects, from which Barber's thesis comes, and practical ways toward and the tools for what he advocates: strong democracy.
Barber persuasively displays the importance of citizenship that is closely linked to and associated with the active engagement and participation in the affairs of community to promote the betterment of the commune of which individual citizen is a part. As a response to the unceasing preoccupation of liberal theory with pre-historical and pre-theoretical epistemology taken to practice, Barber points to the very import of community that defines the specifics and boundaries of what liberal theory takes for granted such as liberty and equality, so, the community is rendered much more than the mere sum of individual interests. That is, community is designated as a medium that is congenial to create new perspectives passing beyond the interests and ideas of individual citizens. Barber comes up with a vision under which free individuals of community would convene for the purpose of revealing and dialoguing the common problems facing the community. The community in Barber's vision is a pragmatic one, hardly dependent on any overarching set of pre-historical principles.
The book is organized around ten chapters, the first five of which deal with the core assumptions and frames (pre-conceptual, epistemological and psychological frames) of liberal theory, thereby Barber displays how liberal theory has misguided the practice of democracy in the twentieth century, with consequences being the anomie on the part of citizens and thin democracy in general. The last five chapters are spent for developing theory for strong democracy, the kind of democracy sharing less commonality with liberal representative democracy. In the lexicon of the book, the more the individual participates in the affairs of community, the more the individual becomes a citizen, so that politics for him/her becomes a way of living rather than a meaningless ritual. Therefore, representative government changes itself into the self-governing by community. For reaching what Barber offers, there is a number of very interesting propositions in the book that target at developing a powerful sense of active citizenship and community. The argument of Barber resembles how Danish scholar Bent Flyvbjerg (in Rationality and Power, 1998) depicts democracy: democracy as a form of governing that is fought for, day in and day out, to make it work rather than being a final point that is obtained for once and retained forever. Politics, of course, stands for the daily activity on the part of citizens for making democracy work.
Although a meticulously woven and spellbindingly presented theory of strong democracy this book is, I recommend, it should be read together with two important books, of which the first is "The Idea of Civil Society" by Adam Seligman, therein the importance of individualism-to which Barber objects with cautionary reservation-for both the sustenance and promotion of equality and pluralism as an antidote (or balance) to the exclusionary tendency of communitarian solidarity, is stressed. The other book is "Making Democracy Work" by Robert Putnam in which the interrelationship between active civic engagement and high performance governance is empirically documented by which elucidates how "enlightened self-interest" ought to be understood in the relational context of community-citizen interaction.
Yet, you can find some points in the book to which you would be in opposition, you may try to complement the creative and frank vision of Barber by chinking in further, of course, If you "will". This is a highly recommended classic by all standards.
- Paperback: 356 pages
- Publisher: University of California Press; First Edition, Twentieth-Anniversary Edition, With a New Preface edition (Feb. 1 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0520242335
- ISBN-13: 978-0520242333
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.3 x 22.9 cm
- Shipping Weight: 544 g
- Customer Reviews: 4 customer ratings
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #288,020 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- See Complete Table of Contents
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