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John Keane: What's So Good About Democracy?

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InVinoVeritas Avatar
Posted: 09.29.09, 08:07 AM
Keane - who is an quality scholar - is stretching pretty thin here. First off, attributing a "democratic" tradition to Mesopotamian assemblies is nearly indefensible as we know next to nothing about what went on in those assemblies. This seems like little more than a stab at fashionably rejecting views of Greek origination of democratic assembly. He's on far shakier ground in trying to make the case for Islam as the agent of Democracy through the middle ages. This seems to be another shot at fashionable scholarship in which Keane might cross enough boundaries of academic obligations that he discredits himself. Most notably, if he intended to provide evidence that Islam somehow protected democracy then he fails spectacularly. Surely it isn't proof of a democratic tradition that early Islam "opposed monarchies" - come on now Dr. Keane, Islam "opposed" monarchy in name but the form itself was retained with a vengeance. What he misses - but inadvertently returns to later - is that democracy as we know it today isn't democracy at all if it's not bounded with constitutionalism and liberalism. Or, put differently, with the rule of law and a strong cultural tendency to tolerance of the other. On both of these scores Islam has historically been a miserable failure, with one or two exceptional moments. All in all - this book seems to be Keane's effort to style some new angle on Democracy that challenges the status quo. The sad reality is that himself knows better. But book reviews won't call you "bold" or "daring" if you don't run off and do something unorthodox.

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