Democracy in Crisis


From the storming of the Capitol and the rise of authoritarian rhetoric and politicians to the challenge of global warming, liberal democracy faces a twin crisis of legitimacy and efficacy. Democracy in Crisis points to long neglected resources from the world’s first democracy – Ancient Athens – prompting us to think beyond our current practices.

Download and read the Introduction to the book here: Introduction


240 pp.


SKU: 9781788360630 Categories: , ,

The storming of the US Capitol building in January 2021 focused attention on the multiple threats facing contemporary liberal democracies. Beyond the immediate problem of Covid-19, the past two decades saw political polarization, a dramatic rise in inequality, global warming and other environmental threats, as well as the growth of dangerous cultural and political divisions. Western liberal democracies find themselves in the midst of what political theorists call a legitimation crisis: major portions of the population lack confidence in the ability of governments to address our most pressing problems. This distrust in government and traditional political parties opened the door to populist leaders and a rising tide of authoritarianism.

Liberal democracies face major structural and normative challenges in the near future that require us to look beyond the traditional set of solutions available. Democracy in Crisis points back to the world’s first democratic government, Ancient Athens, to see what made that political arrangement durable and resistant to both internal and external threats. The argument focuses on several distinctive Athenian institutions and practices, and considers how we might reimagine them in the modern world. The book addresses questions of civic ideology and institutions, with extended treatment of two distinctive Athenian institutions, ostracism and sortition.

8 reviews for Democracy in Crisis

  1. Professor Daniela Cammack, UC Berkeley

    “Studying Athenian democracy means constantly having to rethink our assumptions as to what democracy has meant and could mean. Jeff Miller grasps the enormous potential of Athens for broadening our sense of the possible, and his deft explorations of Athenian civic ideology, ostracism, sortition for office, public finance and cultural practice show how much we stand to gain by becoming a little more Athenian in our thinking and institutions. This vividly written and engaging book is a feast for the political imagination.”

  2. Professor Melissa Lane, Princeton University

    “In this engaging book, Jeff Miller shows how the ways in which ancient Athenian democrats managed the wealthy elites among them — by ostracizing them from the city when need be; restricting the occasions for them to dominate elected public offices; and taxing them to provide civic goods — can stimulate reflection on urgently needed democratic reforms today. Noting that many ancient Athenians were buried with their jury service tokens, Miller calls for a similar revitalization of civic community and the meaning of citizenship.”

  3. Professor Lynette Mitchell, University of Exeter

    “At the heart of this book lies the idea that society is a collective enterprise: Aristotle says that a man only comes to exist when he is in a community, since he is by nature a political animal. This book argues that this is the key insight that modern liberal democracy needs to take on board in order to reinvigorate the democratic project. By being steeped in the past, this book not only evaluates contemporary politics and the modern democratic state, but also suggests solutions for its future political health.”

  4. Professor Kyriakos Demetriou, Executive Editor (2002-19), Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek and Roman Political Thought

    “A lucid, versatile, and non-specialist account of the ways liberal democracy, today facing a compound of critical challenges, can learn by revisiting Athenian civic life, institutions, and cultural manifestations. Drawing on Athenian democratic experience, Miller directs us towards imaginative resources which lie dormant in 21st-century civil societies to reinvigorate our political assumptions and hopefully revise our practices before it is too late for democracy to have any meaningful existence. A study of great value in classical reception, it will be of great interest to students of political thought, democratic activists, and citizens of the world who do not consider themselves as mere numbers in a voting equation, but visionary people actively engaged in reinstalling democratic governance.”

  5. Professor James S. Fishkin, Director, Stanford Center for Deliberative Democracy

    “A thoughtful overview of Ancient Athenian practices with possible implications for modern democracy.”

  6. David Marx, book reviewer

    “Clear cut, thorough and stringently straight ahead, Democracy In Crisis transports Athenian politicization slap-bang, centre-stage.”

  7. Evangelia Sembou, Political Studies Review

    “The book is well-researched, well-written and the material presented in an interesting manner… [It] will be of interest to political theorists and historians of political thought, but also to political scientists who are concerned with the threats liberal democracy faces today.”

  8. Josine Blok, Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek and Roman Political Thought

    “Democracy in Crisis is a rich, subtly argued book… Miller’s account of ‘lessons from ancient Athens’ is both persuasive and inspiring.”

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