To discover the moral basis of political disharmony, the author traces the history of Western political thought. In a probing analysis that moves from ancient precepts of the good, through the emerging values of modernity, to the ethical beliefs of today, DeWiel develops a theory of democracy as a permanent contest of true but competing ideals. Following Berlin, he shows that democracy is best defined by a tragic conflict of goods, in which every achievement may entail a deep loss.
The book suggests that wherever democracy emerges, a pattern of conflict will arise among socialist, liberal, and conservative ideals. By specifying the precise values embedded along the left-right continuum, DeWiel offers this hypothesis in a way that may be used empirically in future studies. Based on a sophisticated theory of democracy, this book provides a model of ideological differences designed to apply across democratic nations.