Justice by Means of Democracy (Hardcover)
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From leading thinker Danielle Allen, a bold and urgent articulation of a new political philosophy: power-sharing liberalism.
At a time of great social and political turmoil, when many residents of the leading democracies question the ability of their governments to deal fairly and competently with serious public issues, and when power seems more and more to rest with the wealthy few, this book reconsiders the very foundations of democracy and justice. Scholar and writer Danielle Allen argues that the surest path to a just society in which all are given the support necessary to flourish is the protection of political equality; that justice is best achieved by means of democracy; and that the social ideals and organizational design principles that flow from recognizing political equality and democracy as fundamental to human well-being provide an alternative framework not only for justice but also for political economy. Allen identifies this paradigm-changing new framework as “power-sharing liberalism.”
Liberalism more broadly is the philosophical commitment to a government grounded in rights that both protect people in their private lives and empower them to help govern public life. Power-sharing liberalism offers an innovative reconstruction of liberalism based on the principle of full inclusion and non-domination—in which no group has a monopoly on power—in politics, economy, and society. By showing how we all might fully share power and responsibility across all three sectors, Allen advances a culture of civic engagement and empowerment, revealing the universal benefits of an effective government in which all participate on equal terms.
About the Author
Danielle Allen is the James Bryant Conant University Professor and director of the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. She was a recipient of a MacArthur fellowship in 2001 and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2009. In 2020, she won the Kluge Prize for Achievement in the Study of Humanity, administered by the Library of Congress, that recognizes work in disciplines not covered by the Nobel Prizes. Her many books include the widely acclaimed Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality and Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A.
“Allen is an important political theorist and classicist who’s tried to turn theory into action. . . . And Allen’s vision, which she puts forward in her new book, Justice by Means of Democracy . . . is something called power-sharing liberalism. To her, one mistake liberalism has made has been that it is willing, again and again, to deprioritize political equality in favor of material redistribution. But she thinks renewal isn’t going to come from people just getting more from government. They’re going to have to be more full participants in government, and that’s going to require fundamentally overhauling the system. And maybe more than that, it’s going to require potentially constructing entirely new possibilities within it.”
— Ezra Klein
"An important book. . . . Allen’s big idea is that justice can’t be achieved simply by taking from the rich and giving to the poor, and liberty isn’t just about being left alone to do your own thing. People care about more than money, and we are social creatures. We flourish when we participate as equals in the public sphere. 'Justice is therefore best, and perhaps only, achieved by means of democracy,' she wrote in the opening pages."
— Peter Coy
“Such a strong argument for people getting involved in politics. Not everyone has to run for governor of Massachusetts, but so many people in our movement, our prognosticators, opinion people who are pushing a message of doom and—maybe just getting up and getting involved, maybe that’s a good answer to that. . . . [Allen’s] arguments that freedom emerges from conditions where people are empowered to participate, to architect, to structure the world around them, it’s great.”
— Felicia Wong
"Allen’s latest book, Justice by Means of Democracy, has little patience for abstractions that neglect real-world constraints. Allen argues instead for greater attention to the background conditions that make real disagreement possible, in part by critiquing and reframing the arguments in John Rawls’ seminal work of political philosophy, A Theory of Justice. . . . Her vision of ensuring that 'all people have an experience of ownership, belonging, and equal footing in relation to our political institutions' is compelling. . . . There’s much to appreciate about both the style and substance of Allen’s argument."
— John Inazu
"It is hard to understate the importance of Allen’s insistence that political equality is diminished or enhanced not only or even primarily by the proper design of governmental institutions, but also and maybe more importantly in the realms of civil society and political economy. It is not enough to have 'egalitarian participatory constitutional democracy' if the social and economic conditions under which people must participate are not themselves structured with political equality in mind."
— Adam Smith
"Allen offers a compelling and wide-ranging articulation of liberalism. She shows that not only do liberalism and democracy often go together, but also that they are inseparable partners in the quest for human flourishing. In Allen’s view, human freedom is predicated on political equality, which is increasingly under threat as power becomes concentrated among the wealthy. . . . Justice by Means of Democracy provides the road map that contemporary liberalism so desperately needs."
— Jeffery Tyler Syck
"Allen has done political philosophy a great service with this book. . . . Liberals and non-liberals alike should applaud its arrival."
— Max Foley-Keene
"In sum, Justice by Means of Democracy moves us away from parochial definitions of identity and nation to an active model of democratic power and citizenship—one that is in the service of a just, relational, economically empowering, dignity-enhancing, and inclusively democratic society. And by elaborating the principles that could form the basis of such a society, Allen is also able to lay out criteria for making policies that might actually create it."
— Margaret Levi
"A major political philosophical work. . . . Allen’s agenda is about making democracy much more responsive, representative and dynamic and ensuring greater parity of esteem between democratic and economic equality."
— Nick Plumb
"Allen integrates both scholarship and democratic activism into her work as an academic and as an activist. Justice by Means of Democracy examines these different threads as well; what is justice, and how does democracy work towards achieving justice? And what is the role of the citizen in these pursuits?"
— Lilly J. Goren
"A work of political philosophy drawn from Allen’s lifetime of scholarly interests and her analysis of traumatic socioeconomic and political events during the past decade. A just society is secured by political equality, she explains—and justice itself depends on democracy. But she argues further that 'power-sharing liberalism' is the best way to achieve the equality and justice essential to human flourishing: a prescription for inclusion and careful avoidance of any group’s monopoly on political, economic, or social power. Aspirationally, 'Justice by means of democracy will exist when all people, regardless of background, fully share power and responsibility.'"
— Harvard Magazine
"Allen's new book lays out vision for power-sharing liberalism that will lead to greater inclusion, responsiveness, participation—and better lives for all. In Allen’s vision for a just society, every citizen would experience empowerment—both in their private lives and in our shared governing. Achieving this, according to Allen, requires a world where people have a work-life-civic balance and certain foundational needs assured: straightforward and affordable healthcare, low housing and energy costs, and good jobs that integrate people into the productivity of a dynamic, inclusive economy."
— Eileen O'Grady
"A profound political theorist and classicist, Professor Allen was my dean when I received my PhD, and I have long admired her intellectual rootedness in theory and practice."
— Alyssa Ayres, dean, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University
"Allen’s book presents a bold thesis: ‘Justice . . . requires egalitarian participatory constitutional democracy.’ Allen persuasively argues that neither liberalism nor democracy can stand alone. In addition, the argument incorporates equality by deploying the republican conception of liberty as non-domination. As such, the book presents an important critique of much of twentieth-century liberalism, which emphasized the distinction between liberty and democracy. . . . An important and provocative work of political theory. Essential."
“With a philosophically rich set of arguments, Allen brilliantly reveals how democracy is the means to achieve justice. As impressively, she derives from her political theory practical steps for the achievement of our common purpose and flourishing. This is a book in the tradition of Rawls and Dahl, but it is a book informed by the recognition of difference and diversity and the search for more encompassing standards of justice. It is without doubt one of the most important books ever written on democracy.”
— Margaret Levi, professor of political science and codirector of the Ethics, Society, and Technology Hub, Stanford University
“Justice by Means of Democracy is a compelling, major statement by one of the most important, influential, and original political philosophers working today. The goal of the book, which is admirably achieved, is to reorient current discussions of justice, away from the primary economic focus on equal distribution of material goods (income or wealth) and toward democratic political equality. This book will transform academic debates in political philosophy and set the terms for how justice is made manifest in social policy. Superb.”
— Josiah Ober, author of "Demopolis: Democracy before Liberalism in Theory and Practice"
“Ambitious in scope, Justice by Means of Democracy rivals John Rawls’s Theory of Justice, the standard twentieth-century go-to text for liberal political philosophies seeking to address structural inequalities. Taking the idea of the ‘basic structure of society’ as its point of departure, Justice by Means of Democracy adds positive liberties and public autonomy to Rawls’s emphases on negative liberties and private autonomy and replaces Rawls’s famous ‘difference principle’ with a principle of ‘difference without domination.’ Offering an exciting new theory of justice for the twenty-first century, Justice by Means of Democracy is a remarkable achievement.”
— Jill Frank, author of "Poetic Justice: Rereading Plato’s 'Republic'"