The end of history: a readers' companion

The Encyclopedia of Democracy
May 3, 1996

Writing in defence of political science in The THES's recent "Great Balloon Debate", Tim Bale argued that "one of the greatest dangers we face is a slide from democracy. Politicians are reducing their accountability and the electorate is becoming either alienated or apathetic. Don't ditch the only people who can expose these dangers and suggest solutions."

I like Bale's presumptuousness and chauvinism. But it is hardly the case that political scientists are uniquely empowered to address the problems of democracy. It is even arguable that they themselves are at least partly culpable for today's problematic state of democratic life. As advisors to politicos and statesmen, as mentors to the politically inspired and ambitious, and as authors of political theories and analyses, political scientists have good reason to pray for forgiveness as they leap from the balloon in favour of sociologists or - God forbid - economists or psychologists.

To his own credit, Bale does call our attention to the deepening crisis of western political life. And, presumably, he is not referring to the kinds of developments spoken of by his disciplinary colleagues, Samuel Huntington, Michael Crozier and Joji Watanuki, in their 1975 Trilateral Commission report, The Crisis of Democracy. Declaiming the legacy of the struggles of the 1960s to be an "excess of democracy", these three advocates for the rich and powerful anxiously called for initiatives to reduce popular political participation and limit the critical influence of university and media-based "value-oriented intellectuals". Indeed, I hope Bale would agree that the contemporary crisis of democracy is in good part a consequence of the past 20 years of class-war-from-above waged by our corporate and governing elites following the recommendation of Huntington et al.

Given the neoconservative bent of its editorial board - chaired by the renowned Seymour Martin Lipset and including Larry Diamond of the Hoover Institution, with Huntington himself functioning as a consulting editor - I figured that the Encyclopedia of Democracy was directly descended from the Trilateralists' crisis papers and, although Francis Fukuyama is not a contributor, that it was probably intended to serve as a "Reader's Companion to the End of History". After a generation of Reaganism and Thatcherism, social-democratic disarray and the collapse of the Soviet Union, I expected the work to be essentially a grand celebration of the historic and universal triumph of western capitalism and liberal-democratic politics. To a great extent it is; but, I must admit, it is also much more.

Five years in the making, this four-volume, 1,554-page, one-million word encyclopedia contains 417 articles authored by 253 scholars. Ranging in length from 300-8,500 words, accompanied by maps, tables, pictures and suggestions for further reading, the entries include surveys and portraits of countries and regions, historical eras and events, movements and individuals, and concepts and issues. Additionally, there is an editors' preface, an introduction by Lipset, an appendix of 20 primary documents and a comprehensive index conveniently reproduced in the back of each volume .

Though drawn mostly from the United States, the roster of contributors is international: there are 25 British academics, and many of the authors are rather distinguished figures. Also, to the editors' credit, while Marxian and radical political scientists are seriously under-represented, the line-up is not limited simply to conservatives. Along with the many entries by the latter, there are also articles by left-progressives like Benjamin Barber, Chantal Mouffe, Claus Offe, Bertell Ollman and the more senior Lewis Coser.

Geographically speaking, coverage is truly global. Though not every nation-state is accorded its own entry, every country is eventually covered by way of the regional articles. But Scottish and Welsh nationalists will be disappointed to find that England, Scotland and Wales are dealt with solely and collectively in terms of the "United Kingdom". In fact, little attention is given to Celtic nationalist movements outside of Ireland, though seven pages are devoted to the "Scottish Enlightenment".

The concepts, experiences and issues treated are also diverse and wide ranging: from accountability of public officials, affirmative action, and aid policy to welfare, women and democracy and the first and second world wars. So, too, are the movements - from abolitionism, African independence movements and anarchism to tax revolts, women's suffrage in the United States and Zionism. As are individual figures - from Tunku Abdul Rahman and John Adams to Boris Yeltsin and Shigeru Yoshida. I was pleased to find Antonio Gramsci accorded an entry of his own; exasperated by the brief and poorly written one for Thomas Paine; and aggravated to find Margaret Thatcher, but not E. P. Thompson, included among the many British entries, though, having read it, I cannot help but quote Hilary Land's critically ironic closing note on Thatcherism: "In the short run the effects were damaging to democracy, but in the long run they may be beneficial, as the limits of applying market principles to all areas of life become clearer."

Obviously, given its scale and the pluralism of its contributors, the encyclopedia is not one-dimensional in perspective. However, in view of the composition of its editorial board, many of the entries do reflect the conception of democracy originally developed in the 1950s by the then apparently liberal (but now conservative) modernisation and end-of-ideology theorists. Lipset's introduction leads the way here. In it, democracy is understood in decidedly liberal post-18th century terms, entailing "competition for government posts in fair and open elections I citizens participate in selecting their leaders and forming policies I and civil and political liberties exist to ensure the integrity of political competition and participation".

Recalling the horrors of the present century, who would gripe about these undeniably fundamental features of a democratic polity? And, arguably, they allow for the further development of social democracy and, even, socialist democracy. But, even as he acknowledges the complex and problematic relationship between capitalism and the market economy on the one hand, and liberty, equality and democracy on the other, Lipset proceeds to assert that the latter essentially requires the former. Standing with Max Weber and Joseph Schumpeter - yet failing to note the historical relationship between capitalism and fascism - he writes that "a free market is facilitated by democracy and vice versa". Moreover, though he warns of the dangers of gross inequalities, Lipset seems oblivious to the threat posed to democratic life by the development of not merely multinational corporations but global capital.

Notably, and understandably so, Lipset himself is accorded an entry in the encyclopedia. But its author, Gary Marks, fails to refer to Lipset's intellectual errors, such as his subscription in Political Man (1960) to the thesis of "working- class authoritarianism". Here, Lipset avoids such a gross observation and, having granted the primary role in the making of democracy to the northern European bourgeoisie and middle classes, adds that an "independent trade union movement helped to create and maintain free institutions". But he still does not fully get it. He refuses to appreciate both the history of revolutions and the relationship between working-class struggles and the making of democratic life - past, present and future. And, though he is prepared to consider the globalisation of capitalist democracy a la Fukuyama's "end of history", he does not entertain more radical forms of democratic development.

Apparently, Lipset did not adequately consider Dietrich Rueschemeyer's excellent article on capitalism in which he observes that "the working class has proved to be - with few exceptions - the most consistently pro-democratic social class", or the smartly written article by Frank Cunningham on socialism, in which he shows that the socialism-democracy relationship remains a lively and living question, possessed of critical political significance.

Nevertheless, whatever the limitations of Lipset's own political imagination, he did a decent job of recruiting contributors and, given the critical presence of entries like Rueschemeyer's and Cunningham's, The Encyclopedia of Democracy is a useful and challenging work that should become part of public and university library reference collections.

Harvey J. Kaye is professor of social change and development, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

The Encyclopedia of Democracy

Editor - Seymour Martin Lipset
ISBN - 0 415 12426 3
Publisher - None
Price - £250.00
Pages - 1,554 (4 vols)

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