The Civic Bargain: How Democracy Survives (Hardcover)

The Civic Bargain: How Democracy Survives By Brook Manville, Josiah Ober Cover Image

The Civic Bargain: How Democracy Survives (Hardcover)


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A powerful case for democracy and how it can adapt and survive--if we want it to

Is democracy in trouble, perhaps even dying? Pundits say so, and polls show that most Americans believe that their country's system of governance is being "tested" or is "under attack." But is the future of democracy necessarily so dire? In The Civic Bargain, Brook Manville and Josiah Ober push back against the prevailing pessimism about the fate of democracy around the world. Instead of an epitaph for democracy, they offer a guide for democratic renewal, calling on citizens to recommit to a "civic bargain" with one another to guarantee civic rights of freedom, equality, and dignity. That bargain also requires them to fulfill the duties of democratic citizenship: governing themselves with no "boss" except one another, embracing compromise, treating each other as civic friends, and investing in civic education for each rising generation.

Manville and Ober trace the long progression toward self-government through four key moments in democracy's history: Classical Athens, Republican Rome, Great Britain's constitutional monarchy, and America's founding. Comparing what worked and what failed in each case, they draw out lessons for how modern democracies can survive and thrive. Manville and Ober show that democracy isn't about getting everything we want; it's about agreeing on a shared framework for pursuing our often conflicting aims. Crucially, citizens need to be able to compromise, and must not treat one another as political enemies. And we must accept imperfection; democracy is never finished but evolves and renews itself continually. As long as the civic bargain is maintained--through deliberation, bargaining, and compromise--democracy will live.
Brook Manville is an independent consultant who writes about politics, democracy, technology, and business. Previously a partner with McKinsey & Co. and an award-winning professor at Northwestern University, he is the author of The Origins of Citizenship in Ancient Athens (Princeton) and A Company of Citizens: What the World's First Democracy Teaches Leaders About Creating Great Organizations (with Josiah Ober). Josiah Ober is the Constantine Mitsotakis Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the author of The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece, Democracy and Knowledge: Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens (both Princeton), The Greeks and the Rational: The Discovery of Practical Reason, and other books.
Product Details ISBN: 9780691218601
ISBN-10: 0691218609
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: September 19th, 2023
Pages: 312
Language: English
"Manville and Ober urge defenders of liberal democracy to take the long view. The book provides fascinating portraits of four great breakthroughs in citizen self-rule: classical Athens, republican Rome, parliamentary Great Britain, and the United States. Each was a world-historical experiment in building collective self-government; politics, that is, without a boss. What allowed these democratic experiments to endure for centuries? Manville and Ober argue that despite their manifold differences, they shared a core set of features. They built institutions that divided and dispersed political authority, creating procedures for collective decision-making. They fostered trust and a spirit of compromise. They conceived of themselves as organic, evolving entities rather than as sets of static players. They understood the importance of civic education, which reinforced the norms of citizenship rights and responsibilities. Most important, Manville and Ober argue, the great democracies survived because they forged and maintained a “civic bargain,” a political pact about who is a citizen, how decisions are made, and the distribution of responsibilities and entitlements. As a result, these democracies were able to persevere through recurring crises and face down existential threats." - Foreign Affairs

"Brook Manville and Josiah Ober, in their new book, “The Civic Bargain” (Princeton), recognize this truth, and, indeed, build a whole theory of democracy around it. They begin with a simple but persuasive point: that democracy depends not on the creation of constitutions and statutes but on intuitive understandings among groups that precede this formal apparatus. " -- The New Yorker

One of The New Yorker's Best Books of the Year, 2023