Democracy - An Alternate View

Author: Riser, John
This book provides an examination of democracy in a different light, specifically in the author’s identification, explication and elaboration of three fundamental criteria. These three fundamental criteria of democracy and democratic practice often discounted or simply disregarded are: 1) democracy is a form of human activity relevant not just for the conventionally political state but also, as much or more, for other social contexts of various magnitudes and functions; 2) democracy is a practice of positive freedom, incorporating negative freedom but subsuming the latter within the project of the mutual empowerment of human beings in accordance with humanistic values; 3) democracy is embodied most adequately in a communally (not merely socially) cooperative model that is different, in most important respects, from unitary, adversary or deliberative models (herein subjected to critique).

Explicit analyses are provided of a variety of socio-political concepts that are philosophically integrated with these criteria, concepts such as representation, participation, elitism, preferences, interests, the common good, human needs and human rights, negative freedom and positive freedom, justice, equality, difference, legitimacy, obligation and loyalty. The author’s own model of democracy – acknowledged to be unrealizable at the level of the nation-state (where adversary quasi-democracy is most practicable) – is explicated, at the same time, dealing with problems and prospects for it and emphasizing its importance for the social activity of human beings in the immediacy of their lifeworld.


“Unlike many other defenders of democracy, John Riser explicates a form of democracy that he thinks cannot be instantiated by the modern state. This form of democracy is characterized by the practice of positive rather than negative liberty, a practice in which each participant is cooperatively empowered. For Riser, democracy at the national level can only be “a kind of quasi-democracy, adversarial in disposition, socially contractual in strategy, limited in effective popular participation, often elitist in governance, and much more likely to generate forms of satisfied accommodation than creative empowerment.” There is much to recommend Riser’s account here” – (From the Commendatory Preface) Professor James Sterba, University of Notre Dame

“John Riser develops a unique and important conception of democracy, distinct both from currently prevalent ‘common sense’ understandings of democracy and from previous philosophical accounts of democracy. Because this view is both novel and intellectually and practically important, I highly recommend this work….overall, this work is substantive, thought provoking, timely and scholarly.” – Dr. Shelly Park, University of Central Florida

“[This work] could not be more timely or more relevant to contemporary U.S. politics in an election year or more of a contribution to the raging debate over both the meaning and application of democracy today…. Whether globalization, often understood as the spread of markets and liberal democracy, or nation-building, partly understood as the export of democratic institutions, the meaning and role of democracy is under renewed scrutiny in both academia and policy-making circles. Dr. Riser's work resonates with these concerns as it reconsiders and reevaluates democracy and democratic theory. Although written from a political philosophy perspective, his study is inherently interdisciplinary and can be integrated readily into a broad range of courses in political science, comparative politics, international relations, international economy and markets, law, human rights, sociology, and history. The work has impressed me as a well-written and well-argued reformulation of democracy. Its greatest contribution lies in its ability to demonstrate persuasively how the many attacks against democracy today are almost all the result of confusion over what is real or authentic democracy and deep frustration with various forms of "pseudo-democracy." Overall, I found Dr. Riser's presentation sobering, enlightening and liberating. And a valuable and essential read.” - Dr. Waltraud Morales, University of Central Florida

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. The Scope of Democracy
3. Representation and Elitism
4. Preferences, Interests and the Common Good
5. Human Needs and Human Rights
6. Negative Freedom and Positive Freedom
7. Justice, Equality and Difference
8. Models of Democratic Activity: Unitary, Adversary, Deliberative, Communal
9. Legitimacy, Obligation and Loyalty
10. The Failure of Capitalist Democracy and Socialist Democracy
11. Conclusion