Book Review: The Good State: On the Principles of Democracy, by A C Grayling • Glam Adelaide

Book Review: The Good State: On the Principles of Democracy, by A C Grayling

POLITICAL THEORY: The foundations upon which our democracies stand are inherently flawed, vulnerable to corrosion from within. What is the remedy?

An entertaining, readable deconstruction of the failures of modern democracies.

A C Grayling is on many people’s ideal dinner party guest list. Erudite, intelligent, articulate and humane, his work has covered philosophy, poetry, Chinese literature and theology. He has also written widely on principles of government, particularly in 2017’s Democracy and Its Crisis.

The Good State follows on from that last work with a deconstruction of the foundations of democracy, and their current application in the modern state. Beginning with a discussion of what democracy means, and what the purpose of government is, he goes on to look at aspects such as the Westminster System, separation of powers, electoral systems, politics vs government, and the role of the media. He is certainly no utopian, summoning up an impossible perfection. In his introduction he states:

“Democracy is about a continual negotiation, a gyroscopic keeping of balance, in an effort to achieve the best for all.”

Grayling’s examples are mostly drawn from recent events. Certainly, he concentrates on the UK and USA, but doesn’t fail to refer to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and others. He particularly deconstructs such messes as the Brexit referendum and the rise of Donald Trump.

“As…the Brexit crisis illustrates, the fundamental flaws of the Westminster Model make it highly vulnerable to producing poor government under stress, and poor management of difficult situations.”

One of the more interesting threads running through the work is the idea that there is no such thing as an absolute majority, asserting that:

“Majorities are temporary coalitions of some set of minorities coming together over a particular issue.”

A corollary of this is his criticism of party-politics as anathema to a true democracy. In fact, one of the major threads running through the work is the concept that “In the good state, government transcends politics.”

This is a serious and important work. But it is also highly readable and entertaining. It does not descend into overly detailed technicalities, nor does it preach. It makes sense of some complicated concepts, such as the Electoral College in the US, and the Westminster System. It is neither lofty nor condescending, thus making it perfect as a text for legal or political studies, even at the secondary level.

This book should be compulsory reading for every politician, every voter, and every potential voter.

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Twitter: @TraceyKorsten

Distributed by: Bloomsbury Australia
Released: February 2020
RRP: $34.99

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