Robert A. Dahl's on Democracy Book Report

Pages: 5 (1499 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Government

Interestingly, he asserts that many of the problems associated with imperfect democracy are a direct result of this economic model. For, whereas most individuals consider democracy to require, and be bolstered by, market capitalism (and in part it does), aspects of its system can directly conflict with its principles...moreover, this fact contributes to the very issues of "voice" he discusses as an impediment to true representation, he writes:

Democracy and market-capitalism are locked in a persistent conflict in which each modifies and limits the other...Because market capitalism inevitable creates inequalities, it limits the democratic potential of polyarchal democracy by generating inequalities in the distribution of political resources... [Which include]...unequal distribution of many key resources: wealth, income status, prestige, information, organization, education, knowledge....(177).

Although Dahl's book is, above all, an explanation of democracy, that does not mean that he writes without comment on its merits over other systems of government -- for, as one of the world's leading political scientists, he definitely holds a firm opinion on the matter. For example, Dahl believes that democracies are not only the most "fair" of the systems of government (at least in terms of representation of the individual), but are also ethically strong. He believes that, with regard to moral responsibility, democracy is the only form of government "that can provide a maximum opportunity for exercising moral responsibility (55)." By this he means:

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For you to be morally responsible is for you to be self-governing in the domain of relevant choices....This is more demanding than most of us can hope to meet most of the time. Yet to the extent that your opportunity to live under laws of your own choosing is limited, the scope for your moral responsibility is also limited.

Further, Dahl believes that several other benefits are inherent in the democratic system (in its ideal form). In his chapter, entitled, Why Democracy, Dahl lists the following positive benefits:

Avoiding tyranny

Essential rights

General freedom


Moral autonomy

Book Report on Robert A. Dahl's on Democracy Assignment

Human Development

Protecting essential personal interests

In addition, modern democracies produce:


Prosperity (45)

He explains the meaning he attributes to the above benefits as the following:

Democracy helps to prevent government by cruel and vicious autocrats (tyranny).

Democracy guarantees its citizens a number of fundamental rights that nondemocratic systems do not, and cannot, grant.

Democracy insures its citizens a broader range of personal freedom than any feasible alternative to it.

Democracy helps people to protect their own fundamental interests.

Only a democratic government can provide a maximum opportunity for persons to exercise the freedom of self-determination -- that is, to live under laws of their own choosing.

Only a democratic government can provide a maximum opportunity for exercising moral responsibility.

Democracy fosters human development more fully than any feasible alternative.

Only a democratic government can foster a relatively high degree of political equality.

Modern representative democracies do not fight wars with one another.

Countries with democratic governments tend to be more prosperous than countries with nondemocratic governments (61).

Dahl makes his points quite clearly and persuasively. For, in theory, democracy has tremendous advantages for the individual compared to previous or alternate models. (If any of the current models of democracy fully exibit all of these characteristics, however, is a matter of some question.).

That On Democracy is simplistic does nothing to detract from its immense value. Although Dahl himself raises the issue, "Of course, during this short tour you won't find all the answers to the questions you might like to ask (4)," he does manage to keep those questions to a minimum.

The fact is, the study of democracy, its effects, and its mode of operation is tremendously complex, especially when we consider the changing world of globalization.

However, Dahl's book does a wonderful job of explaining the basics in a way that might serve to clarify the true nature (and characteristics) of democracy in its ideal form. Indeed, many American readers, comfortably reclined in the seat of one of the greatest democracies on earth, may be surprised at the actual shortcomings of the American system of government in relation to the ideal criteria defined in the book -- and that is a good thing (as my rabid patriot might say, "You can't fix it if you don't know it's broke."), or, as the case may be -- "breaking."


Dahl, Robert. On Democracy. New Haven: Yale University… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Robert A. Dahl's on Democracy" Book Report in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Robert A. Dahl's on Democracy.  (2003, December 18).  Retrieved July 6, 2020, from

MLA Format

"Robert A. Dahl's on Democracy."  18 December 2003.  Web.  6 July 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Robert A. Dahl's on Democracy."  December 18, 2003.  Accessed July 6, 2020.