John Keane | Power and Humility: the future of monitory democracy
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Power and Humility: the future of monitory democracy

Power and Humility: The Future of Monitory Democracy

Publisher: Cambridge University Press (2018)
Language: English
ISBN: 9781108348997 (online) | 9781108441377 (paperback)


Democracy urgently needs re-imagining if it is to address the dangers and opportunities posed by current global realities, argues leading political thinker John Keane. He offers an imaginative, radically new interpretation of the twenty-first-century fate of democracy. The book shows why the current literature on democracy is failing to make sense of many intellectual puzzles and new political trends. It probes a wide range of themes, from the growth of cross-border institutions and capitalist market failures to the greening of democracy, the dignity of children and the anti-democratic effects of everyday fear, violence and bigotry. Keane develops the idea of ‘monitory democracy’ to show why periodic free and fair elections are losing their democratic centrality; and why the ongoing struggles by citizens and their representatives, in a multiplicity of global settings, to humble the high and mighty and deal with the dangers of arbitrary power, force us to rethink what we mean by democracy and why it remains a universal ideal.

The Italian Edition is now available, published by Hopeful Monster Editore.

Review by Professor Anna Loretoni


by Anna Loretoni*

Democracy is a form of government which, despite the immediacy of its meaning as ‘people’s government’, has always been a rather complex field of investigation for political theory. If then the reflection on democracy is part of a conception of historical time in which not only the movement towards the best is postulated, but also the regression and the possibility of decivilization, the investigation is necessarily more articulated. As Horkheimer and Adorno remind us, the possibility of barbarism always remains on the horizon, and civilization is always threatened by its reverse; a kind of immanent danger of modernization where ‘instead of entering a truly human state humanity can sink into a new kind of barbarism’. Even according to John Keane, whose interesting reflection on democracy is first offered to the Italian public in this volume, this political form has nothing natural or inevitable. Precisely because it is fragile and extremely precarious, democracy needs an analysis that uses a courageous and creative way of thinking. This is perhaps what is missing from the answers offered by the literature on the subject, and which In Keane’s opinion are inadequate. In an attempt to reconfigure the horizons of democracy in the 21st century, the author distances himself from a political science that, on the basis of statistical fetishism for facts and numbers, ends up limiting our ability to think outside the box, prevents us from adopting ‘irregular thinking’, and unruly gives us to old research methodologies.

Read the full review in PDF

Review by Antonio Campati, Libri (Italy), 15 April 2021


Advance praise:‘There are very few scholars in the world with the intellectual capacity that is needed to understand the past, present and future of democracy on a truly global scale. John Keane is undoubtedly one of them. For those of us that thought – even hoped – that John Keane’s The Life and Death of Democracy was his magnum opus, we must now deal with an even more ambitious contribution to the field. In calling for a radical stretching and refiguring of the imaginary horizons of democracy, Keane is pushing back the most basic boundaries of human understanding and raising profound questions about the future of politics in the twenty-first century. Written in a style that is as accessible and entertaining as it is devastatingly precise and informative, this is quite simply a brilliant book.’

Matthew Flinders – University of Sheffield

Advance praise:‘Democracy is in crisis everywhere and it ought to be re-imagined. Only visionary theorists such as John Keane can do this. His collection of essays written in a ‘pizzicato’ style is a real intellectual treat for both students and practitioners of democracy. Keane views liberal democracy as a ‘living-dead zombie’ and brings our attention to a new historical genus generated by the galaxy of (virtual) media: the monitory democracy. The book invites us to question the conventional wisdom and suggests how to make democracy thrive, even against daunting odds.’

Jan Zielonka – University of Oxford and Ralf Dahrendorf Professorial Fellow at St Antony’s College

Advance praise:’When so many people have been dismayed by democracy, we need a strong voice such as Mr Keane’s to uphold our faith in it, for the alternative is far worse.’

Hu Yong – Peking University

Advance praise:‘John Keane’s call to democratize the study of democracy is an important intervention. The book is a must-read for anyone who wishes to be inspired and challenged when thinking about the virtues democracy demands in the age of communicative plenty.’

Nicole Curato – Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra

‘Monitory democracy: Politics needs lots of imagination to resist the new populism’, interview with Eugenio Giannetta, Linkiesta (Italy), 22 April 2021.

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