'Lively. . . This is one of those rare books about a pressing subject that reads less like a forced march than an inviting stroll . . . A book that encourages thinking, observation and discernment' New York Times
One of our most essential political thinkers offers a vital account of democracy in the twenty-first century
Everyone knows that democracy is in trouble, but do we know what democracy actually is? Political philosopher Jan-Werner Müller, author of the widely acclaimed What Is Populism?, takes us back to basics.
In this short, elegant volume, he explains how democracy is founded on three vital principles: liberty, equality, and also uncertainty. The latter, he argues, is crucial for ensuring democracy's dynamic and creative character. Authoritarians, as well as Big Tech, seek to render politics (and individual citizens) predictable; democracy holds open the possibility that new ideas, movements and identities can be created.
Acknowledging fully the dangers posed by populism, by kleptocratic autocracies like Russia's and by the digital authoritarianism of Xi, Müller also challenges the assumptions made by many liberals defending democracy in recent years. He shows how the secession of plutocratic elites in the West has undermined much of democracy's promise. In response, we need to re-invigorate our institutions, especially political parties and professional media, but also make it easier for citizens to mobilize.
Taking on many of the most difficult political questions we face, this book is a vital rethinking of what democracy is, and how we can reinvent our social contract.
Lively. . . This is one of those rare books about a pressing subject that reads less like a forced march than an inviting stroll . . . A book that encourages thinking, observation and discernment -- Jennifer Szalai ― The New York Times
As a learned political observer, Jan-Werner Müller crosses many borders. He writes for the academy and the broader public. As a German teaching at Princeton University, he understands Europe and the US. He is at ease with data-minded social science, the history of ideas and political philosophy. . . With breadth of view go clarity and economy. His books are usually brisk and to the point -- Edmund Fawcett ― Financial Times
With characteristic brio and intellectual resourcefulness, Jan-Werner Müller invites us to rethink our fundamental political notion. He not only defuses much apocalyptic talk about the decay of democracy in this salutary book; he alerts us to its undiminished appeal and untested possibilities -- Pankaj Mishra
Erudite and urbane, but never condescending or ponderous, Jan-Werner Müller has been the greatest theoretician of what is happening to democracy in our time. Saving democracy, he proposes, requires knowing what it is first, and attending to its infrastructure. Never complacent, and never despairing, this book survives the wreckage of prognostications of democracy's death and doom in the populist era -- Samuel Moyn
Democracy Rules captures the essence of our political moment. It clarifies the fundamental features of modern democracy and populism - following its arguments from the US to India. It is engaging and engaged, without ever being partisan. It is based on deep academic learning, but its arguments are clear, principled, and accessible. It makes a profound moral case that should matter to all our politicians and citizens today. This is political thought at its best -- Rory Stewart
A superb work of democratic theory, passionately argued and elegantly written -- Ivan Krastev
In this brilliant book, Jan-Werner Müller imagines a democratic politics that is fluid, creative, messy, and dynamic in defining who we are as a people and offering a path forward -- Ro Khanna
Few people are as well-equipped as Jan-Werner Müller to assess today's heated debates about democracy with a judiciousness deeply informed by history, international politics and social science. With unerring realism he examines the critical conditions necessary for democracies to function, reminding us of the essential role played by intermediary institutions such parties, the idea of the loyal opposition, and the free press. This realism is at the heart of his fundamental prescription; while we may not have grounds for optimism, we must find a sound basis for hope -- Tamsin Shaw
In elegant and incisive terms, Democracy Rules makes clear that proponents of liberal democracy must reclaim fundamental democratic principles and values -- G. John Ikenberry ― Foreign Affairs
About the Author
Jan-Werner Müller is Professor of Politics at Princeton University and the author of several books, most recently the critically acclaimed What Is Populism? He contributes regularly to London Review of Books, the Guardian, and the New York Review of Books.