What is democracy? Is it the progressive movement of equality and social justice? According to Boris DeWiel, this popular definition is wrong. Inspired by Isaiah Berlin, he argues that democracy is a contest of values in which egalitarianism is only one side. Democracy is contentious because the values of modernity conflict with each other -- and yet, these values are the best that we have.
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.