The Shortest History of Democracy

John Keane

12 January 2023
240 pages


"Indispensable for understanding democracy today' Michael Schudson

A bold new history of democracy from the popular assemblies of Syria-Mesopotamia and the Indian subcontinent to present-day challenges around the world.

From its beginnings in Syria-Mesopotamia and the Indian subcontinent to its role in fomenting revolutionary fervour in France and America, democracy has subverted fixed ways of deciding who should enjoy power and privilege, and why. For democracy encourages people to do something radical: to come together as equals, to determine their own lives and futures.

In this vigorous, illuminating history, acclaimed political thinker John Keane traces its byzantine history, from the age of assembly democracy in Athens, to European-inspired electoral democracy and the birth of representative government, to our age of monitory democracy. He gives new reasons why democracy is a precious global ideal, and shows that as the world has come to be shaped by democracy, it has grown more worldly.

In today’s age of populist strongmen threatening democracy in India, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the US and elsewhere, we need its radical potential more than ever. Does democracy have a future, or will the demagogues and despots win? We are about to find out."