John Keane | The Shortest History of Democracy
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The Shortest History of Democracy


The Shortest History of Democracy

Author: John Keane
Publisher: Black Inc. (1 Feb 2022)
Language: English
ISBN: 9781760642563

In a time of grave uncertainty about the future of our planet, the radical potential of democracy is more important than ever.

From its beginnings in Syria-Mesopotamia – and not Athens – to its role in fomenting revolutionary fervour in France and America, democracy has subverted fixed ways of deciding who should enjoy power and privilege, and why. For democracy encourages people to do something radical: to come together as equals, to determine their own lives and futures.

In this vigorous, illuminating history, acclaimed political thinker John Keane traces its byzantine history, from the age of assembly democracy in Athens, to European-inspired electoral democracy and the birth of representative government, to our age of monitory democracy. He gives new reasons why democracy is a precious global ideal, and shows that as the world has come to be shaped by democracy, it has grown more worldly – American-style liberal democracy is giving way to regional varieties with a local character in places such as Taiwan, India, Senegal and South Africa.

In an age of cascading crises, we need the radical potential of democracy more than ever. Does it have a future, or will the demagogues and despots win? We are about to find out.

> A short reading from The Shortest History of Democracy and talking with Ramjee Chandran at Literary City (Bangalore)



Also available at:


> Essay: ‘How Democracies Die, Fast and Slow’, Eurozine (Vienna), 21 February 2023


How democracies die, fast and slow

> View John’s course A Short History of Democracy on Al Sharq Academia




Why the Regression? A Global Perspective



The Experiment Publishing

Published: September 13, 2022

US Edition Cover


Indian Edition cover

Thai translation

Brazilian translation

Published by Alta Books, for more information, visit

Arabic translation


Turkish Translation


Greek translation

>> Audio introduction by the well-known Greek actor Memos Begnis to the Greek translation of The Shortest History of Democracy.



Portuguese translation

Breve História da Democracia

Publisher: Editorial Presenca

Hebrew translation


Chinese translation


Publisher: 野人文化 (28 September 2022)



Hungarian translation

A demokrácia legrövidebb története

Publisher: Athenaeum (2022)


Spanish translation

Breve historia de la democracia

Publisher: Antoni Bosch (2022)

Ebook is also available on Barnes & Noble



Japanese translation

世界でいちばん短くてわかりやすい 民主主義全史

Publisher: Diamond | ダイヤモンド社 (August 24, 2022)




‘For a brief shining moment, democracy seemed ascendent. Yet as distinguished political theorist John Keane demonstrates, democracy has a history but not necessarily a future. In concise and imaginative analysis, The Shortest History of Democracy outlines key variants of democracy and the many attempts to justify this messy, imperfect way of governing ourselves. Professor Keane argues for an ethic in which our very imperfections are reason to hold each other to account. An urgent, important book for a troubled time.’ — Glyn Davis AC, emeritus professor of political science, University of Melbourne

‘In this jaded age, where democracy appears under attack from all sides – and especially from within – this rich little volume reads like a tonic. John Keane takes the ideals, practices, triumphs and failures of democracies and braids them together into something timely, lyrical and fresh. For cynics and idealists alike, this couldn’t have come at a better time.’ — Scott Ludlam, former deputy leader of the Australian Greens

‘A pragmatic, shining light to readers on radical democratic potential. This is the best, most readable book on the history of democracy published in the third millennium.’ — Takashi Inoguchi, professor emeritus, University of Tokyo; eminent scholar professor and J.F. Oberlin professor (Tokyo); former assistant secretary general of the UN

‘In this enlightening book, John Keane traces the history of democratic ideas and practices, from the classical assembly democracy in Athens, through Modern Age electoral democracy to contemporary monitory democracy. He gives us new reasons why democracy is a global set of ideals and realities, adapted to different cultures and times.’ — Armando Chaguaceda, political scientist and historian, El Colegio de Veracruz, Mexico

‘Shortest – and best! John Keane knows more about the history of democracy globally than one can imagine. Provocative, passionate, fun, and even a bit hopeful. Don’t miss it!’ — Michael Schudson, professor of journalism and sociology, Columbia University

‘Rowing against the tide of pessimism about the future of democracy, the pre-eminent scholar of the history of democratic ideas and practices mesmerises us once again with formidable knowledge and stylistic panache. A gem of a book.’ — Paul ‘t Hart, professor of public administration, Utrecht University

‘The most engaging, accurate, witty, well-referenced, short and well-structured book on democracy you will ever find.’ — Pedro Aibéo, Architectural Democracy

‘An accessible and inspiring presentation of democracy through the ages. John Keane offers us a short, concentrated but deep analysis. Those who do not know will learn in a lucid manner; those who know will also learn, thanks to numerous details and examination of true misconceptions about democracy.’ — Xavier Philippe, professor, University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

‘This is a remarkable book. It covers a vast historical landscape while also delivering intellectual depth. It draws on research and scholarship while remaining accessible and engaging. But most of all, it offers a hopeful history without being naive. Modest in size, incredibly ambitious in content.’ — Matthew Flinders, professor of politics, University of Sheffield; vice-president of the Political Studies Association of the United Kingdom

‘At a time when democracy is challenged from within by deep social inequality and from without by an ascendant China, we could do with accounts that are free of the rhetoric that many in the West use to justify their flawed systems, honest about the complexities of living democratically, and uncompromising in intellectual and moral clarity. This is such a book.’ — Cherian George, author of Hate Spin: The Manufacture of Religious Offense and its Threat to Democracy

‘An insightful history of democracy, a perceptive reflection on its fragility and an intelligent and original analysis of its present problems.’ —Enrique Krauze, historian


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