UCL News


Review: Democracy and Its Perils

14 September 2006

'Is Democracy Possible Here? Principles For a New Political Debate', by Professor Ronald Dworkin [UCL Laws] A distinguished professor of law at New York University and UCL, Professor Dworkin seeks to change - and revitalize - political discourse by articulating two tenets of democracy on which Americans can agree: first, that every human life has value and dignity, not only to the individual but to all of us; and second, that all persons have a special responsibility to realize their own potential.

He then applies these principles to the great issues of our time: terrorism and human rights, religion in public life, and social justice and taxation. If all Americans grounded convictions about specific policies in an interpretation of shared precepts, Dworkin suggests, they might actually learn something from one another.

It's a noble aspiration. And 'Is Democracy Possible Here?' is a perceptive and penetrating book. Dworkin's distinction between a tolerant religious community and a tolerant secular community, and his argument about balancing security against honor and not against rights, should be required reading for every American. But, as he acknowledges, most people now have little interest in engaging "those they regard as belonging to an entirely alien religious or political culture". …

Dworkin concludes by turning pessimism of the intellect into optimism of the will, which merely underscores the absence of answers for our increasingly hollow democracy: "the roots of the love of dignity in our national character ... cannot entirely have withered. I called for argument in this book, and you may think that I have now, at the very end, fallen back only on faith. You may be right. But argument is pointless without faith in those with whom you argue."

Glenn C Altschuler, 'New York Observer'