We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more

E-book purchase
Choose a subscription

Downloaded copy on your device does not expire. Includes 4 years of Bookshelf Online.


Where applicable, tax will be added to the above price prior to payment.

E-book purchasing help



A Guided Tour

Jason Brennan

Publication Date - 07 March 2023

ISBN: 9780197558812

328 pages
5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches

In Stock


How did “democracy” go from a pejorative label for mob rule to the widely shared ideal of enlightened self-rule? How has it evolved as an idea and a set of practices? How have the ways democracy has been practiced impacted the idea of democracy itself? In this short, accessible book, leading democratic theorist Jason Brennan guides readers through the evolution of the concept of democracy and actual democratic practice over time to help them understand the foundations of this longstanding and yet newly fragile political system.

In his wide-ranging tour of the concept, Brennan will examine what democracy meant to the Greeks who first developed the concept before examining how it changed throughout European and later Western history. This will open up rich and perplexing questions. Over time, democracy shifted from being a fringe idea to the gold standard of political institutions: how did this change occur? How did the question of who counts as part of the ruling “people” change over time? As monarchies were replaced with democracies, what did theorists think the promises and perils of republican democracy were? How did actual democratic practice change the debates? What have we learned about how democracy functions--and in some cases, doesn't function--and what does this mean for future philosophical or empirical work? Brennan provides a curated, guided tour of the most important arguments for and against democracy, looking through the core values of stability, virtue, wisdom, freedom, and equality. The goal is to help readers understand what is really at stake in democracy and its alternatives.

Democracy: A Guided Tour gives readers a crash course on the evolution of the idea of democracy, how it has been and is currently practiced, and how we might think about it as we head into a new chapter in its story.


  • Written in clear and engaging language
  • Assesses arguments for and against democracy in light of five fundamental values: stability, virtue, wisdom, liberty, and equality
  • Provides extensive engagement with a wide range of historical and recent authors, including philosophers, social scientists, and political leaders, focusing on their most essential and important ideas

About the Author(s)

Jason Brennan is the Flanagan Family Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy at Georgetown University. He is the author of fifteen books, including Debating Democracy (with Hélène Landemore), Against Democracy, and The Ethics of Voting. His books have been translated twenty-seven times into fourteen languages. He specializes in politics, philosophy, and economics.


"What's so great about democracy? If it is great, it's urgent to know why, and there couldn't be a better place to start. Jason Brennan brilliantly gathers and explains the best contending philosophical arguments-old and new. He shows how they challenge our preconceptions and invites us to think about democracy afresh. It comes not a moment too soon, and I hope it is widely read." -- David Estlund, Brown University

"This is a brilliant, eminently readable introduction to philosophical thinking about democracy. Brennan ingeniously frames the discussion as a series of paired arguments concerning whether democracy is good for helping us to achieve five key ideals: stability, virtue, wisdom, liberty, and equality. In each case, historical thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, John Stuart Mill, and Lenin are brought into lively conversation with contemporary philosophers. The result is magnificent, getting the reader right to the most interesting ideas while allowing plenty of room for philosophers of the past and present to speak for themselves. I can think of no better introduction to democratic theory" -- Alexander Guerrero, Rutgers University

Table of Contents

    Preface and Acknowledgments

    1. Democracy: Why or Why Not?
    2. For Stability: Stability through Shared Power
    3. Against Stability: Passion and Polarization
    4. For Virtue: Does Democracy Enlighten and Ennoble?
    5. Against Virtue: Does Democracy Make Us Angry, Mean, and Dumb?
    6. For Wisdom: Two Heads Are Smarter than One
    7. Against Wisdom: Garbage In, Garbage Out
    8. For Liberty: The Consent of the Governed?
    9. Against Liberty: Democracy as the Many-Headed Master
    10. For Equality: Democracy as the Public Expression of Equal Standing
    11. Against Equality: Is Democratic Equality an Illusion?

    Works Cited

Related Titles