By democracy we usually mean a government comprising popular rule, individual human rights and freedom, and a free-market economy. Yet the flaws in traditional Athenian democracy can instruct us on the weaknesses of that first element of modern democracies shared with Athens: rule by all citizens equally. In Democracy’s Dangers and Discontents, Bruce Thornton discusses those criticisms first aired by ancient critics of Athenian democracy, then traces the historical process by which the Republic of the founders has evolved into something similar to ancient democracy, and finally argues for the relevance of those critiques to contemporary US policy.
He asserts that many of the problems we face today are the consequences of the increasing democratization of our government and that the flaws of democracy, being ultimately an expression of the flaws in human nature, are unlikely to be corrected. Yet, he says, the continuing vigor of the US Constitution and the American character give us hope that democracy’s dangers and discontents do not have to end in soft despotism and that we can restore the limited government of the founders and recover American democracy’s “aptitude and strength.”