Democracy May Not Exist, but We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone


What is democracy really? What do we mean when we use the term? And can it ever truly exist? Astra Taylor, hailed as a “New Civil Rights Leader” (LA Times), provides surprising answers.

There is no shortage of democracy, at least in name, and yet it is in crisis everywhere we look. From a cabal of thieving plutocrats in the White House to rising inequality and xenophobia worldwide, it is clear that democracy—specifically the principle of government by and for the people—is not living up to its promise.

In Democracy May Not Exist, but We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone, Astra Taylor shows that real democracy—fully inclusive and completely egalitarian—has in fact never existed. In a tone that is both philosophical and anecdotal, weaving together history, theory, the stories of individuals, and conversations with such leading thinkers as Cornel West, Danielle Allen, and Wendy Brown, Taylor invites us to reexamine the term. Is democracy a means or an end, a process or a set of desired outcomes? What if the those outcomes, whatever they may be—peace, prosperity, equality, liberty, an engaged citizenry—can be achieved by non-democratic means? Or if an election leads to a terrible outcome? If democracy means rule by the people, what does it mean to rule and who counts as the people?

The inherent paradoxes are too often unnamed and unrecognized. By teasing them out, Democracy May Not Exist, but We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone offers a better understanding of what is possible, what we want, and why democracy is so hard to realize.

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