Democracy & Governance Holiday Book List

By Jennifer R. Dresden

It’s that time of year again and we here at the Democracy & Governance Program know how busy things can get in December.  For those of you last-minute shoppers still unsure of what to get loved ones in the democracy and governance field for the holidays, we’ve got your back.  For those of you just looking for a good, thoughtful read at the end of a hectic year, we’re here to help.

We are happy to present the first annual Democracy & Governance Recommended Books List, brought to you by the faculty, alumni, and Advisory Board of the Georgetown University Democracy & Governance Program.

Thomas Carothers, Advisory Board

I recommend the recent book by my colleague Milan Vaishnav, When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics (Yale, 2017). It is an innovative and penetrating account of the coexistence of criminal behavior by elected politicians and voters’ willingness to continue to vote for such politicians. Although focused on India, it may have insights relevant for closer to home.

Jennifer R. Dresden, Associate Director & Faculty

In contentious times, it always seems like a good idea to get back in touch with the classics.  With so much concern about the state of democracy at home and abroad, it seems like a good time to revisit Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition, Robert A. Dahl’s essential text on thinking about democracy and democratization.  (For those who are looking for a quicker read, Dahl’s On Democracy is a good place to start.)

And of course, if you missed out on our Summer Book Club on American Democracy, I highly recommend the texts we covered then, including J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, Richard Reeves’ Dream Hoarders, and Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind.  You can check out our discussion leaders’ reading guides here, here, and here.

Georges Fauriol, Faculty

Authoritarianism Goes Global: The Challenge to Democracy (Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2016), edited by Larry Diamond, Marc F. Plattner, and Christopher Walker lays out detailed assessments of the tools and strategies deployed with increasing boldness and scope by illiberal powers. The new authoritarians are distinctive in a strategic way by being no longer satisfied with defending their own regimes, but instead aggressively working to undermine if not overtly change the norms that form the foundations of liberal democracy globally.

A critical assessment of this international liberal order appears in Tony Smith’s Why Wilson Matters: The Origins of American Liberal Internationalism and its Crisis Today (Princeton Univ. Press, 2017), and makes for a timely companion piece. If the emergence of aggressive new authoritarians is in part due to the weakening commitments of democracies to the fundamentals of their own form of governance, Smith also argues that American democracy policy internationally has since the end of the Cold War evolved into a form of imperial overreach – disconnected from Wilson’s cautious policy construct. The result has provided a rationale for the pushback from the likes of Russia and China, objecting to the notions of an international liberal order singularly enmeshed with US power projections and interests.

Combined, both books should at least make the reader pause; it invites speculation whether Smith’s appeal for a return to Wilsonian principles of liberal internationalism is likely and practical, and in tandem, whether the alarm sounded by an analysis of the new authoritarians will trigger a prompt and effective response by the United States and other democracies. The outcomes will shape the future course of democracy assistance policies.

Elizabeth J.D. Cutler, Alumna

I’ve been thinking about the 1963 classic, The Civic Culture by Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba.  The past year has been a real case study of American politics and citizen participation and I can only imagine the field day Almond and Verba would have with it. In the absence of actually knowing what they would say, I’ll settle for dusting off my (super dusty) copy of the original book to see what observations and political and civic participation stand out to me now with the past year in the rearview mirror.

Sundar Ramanujam, Alumnus

I recommend Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy by Dr. Raghuram G. Rajan, the former Governor of India’s central bank and Chief Economist and Director of Research at the IMF.  This book grasps at the underlying fault lines in the global economic structures that keeps “quaking” because of evolving technology, shifting demographics and new environments while underscoring the challenging forces modern democracies and polities face when responding to the popular backlash from the quakes.

Jack Santucci, Alumnus

Written by four preeminent experts in the fields of American and comparative politics, A Different Democracy analyzes America’s party system and political institutions vis-à-vis those of other stable democracies. This eye-opener has been a hit with my American politics undergrads.

Still looking for more?  We also recommend that you check out recent books by our faculty:

Power and Change in Iran: Politics of Contention and Conciliation, edited by Daniel Brumberg and Farideh Farhi

The European Empire, by Josep Colomer

Great Powers, Weak States, and Insurgency: Explaining Internal Threat Alliances, by Patrick W. Quirk 

Jennifer R. Dresden is the associate director of the Democracy & Governance Program.