La Democrazia è una causa persa?

Is Democracy a Lost Cause? explores the current debate on democracy. It starts by discussing the meaning of ‘democracy’ and how the understanding of this important political concept has either broadened or contracted, depending on changing political circumstances. Mastropaolo then poses the question of what it means for democracy to be the ‘government of the people’. He deals with the way in which democratic government has been affected by changes in the fabric of society, by the evolution of democratic theory itself, and by the transformations affecting the state and political parties. Political class and citizens’ attitudes towards democratic politics, increasingly characterised by resentment and often taking the form of an anti-politics, are analysed in the concluding chapters.
Paradoxes of an imperfect invention is the apt subtitle that Alfio Mastropaolo chose for his magnum opus. As a guide, the subtitle suggests that we read the book with a critical but open mind. Modern democracy is an institutional fact. It exists by a set of constitutive rules, themselves the product of human invention. The invention had no firm, willful starting point and it is not eternal; neither by definition nor in its set of rules. These are never perfect, not because subject to infringement and change but because they are not meant to be. Contrary to the rules of football or chess, also institutional inventions with their own history, they do not aim at a fixed outcome. Further, when democracy seems to become the only game in town, when other games fade out, then the restlessness of human invention if nothing else sets the course of human affairs in motion again. To paraphrase an American President, it’s politics, stupid; and politics is here to stay. But democracy? To address the question, the best we can do is reculer pour mieux sauter. Mastropaolo provides a thorny, relentless guide through the exercise.

Alfio Mastropaolo is professor of Political Science at the University of Turin.

Alfio Mastropaolo
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with title: Is Democracy a Lost Cause?