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Violence and tragedy riddle democracy - not due to fatal shortcomings or unnecessary failures, but because of its very design and success. To articulate this troubling claim, Steven Johnston explores the cruelty of democratic founding, the brutal use democracies make of citizens and animals during wartime, the ambiguous consequences of legislative action expressive of majority rule, and militant practices of citizenship required to deal with democracy's enemies. Democracy must take responsibility for its success: to rule in denial of violence merely replicates it. Johnston thus calls for the development of a tragic democratic politics and proposes institutional and civic responses to democracy's reign, including the reinvention of tragic festivals and holidays, a new breed of public memorials, and mandatory congressional reparations sessions. Theorizing the violent puzzle of democracy, Johnston addresses classic and contemporary political theory, films, little known monuments, the subversive music of Bruce Springsteen, and the potential of democratic violence by the people themselves.Read more
- Confronts democracy with its routine deployment of violence, and calls for its democratic appropriation and redistribution
- Deals extensively with popular political culture, including contemporary and classic films and movies
- Explores a legislative reparations session as a fundamental party of a democracy's constitution
Reviews & endorsements
"What if violence is not just essential to democracy’s founding but also constitutive of its practice? How, then, might violence be embraced - rather than disavowed - to sustain and reclaim the democratic? In a remarkable work of stunning insights and surprising juxtapositions, Steven Johnston pursues these questions with tenacity, wit, and eloquence. American Dionysia further establishes Johnston as one of the most innovative and original voices in contemporary political theory. This is an extraordinary book."
Simon Stow, College of William and Mary, VirginiaSee more reviews
"Johnston’s book proves a critical correction to contemporary scholarship of democracy. His recognition of tragedy’s centrality to democratic practice undermines the usual uncritical celebration of voting, groupthink, and individualist freedom in most theories of democratic practice. Instead, Johnston shows that democracy rests on a pedestal of warfare, sacrifice, and ineliminable bloodshed. Johnston’s exemplary cases, from philosophers to national mythologies to films, make it impossible to separate commitment to democracy from death-dealing and violence."
Kennan Ferguson, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
"American Dionysia confronts a problem that has been crying out for honest consideration: the inescapable role of violence in democratic politics. Inspired by the Athenian Dionysia, Steven Johnston offers a careful, yet exciting and unsettling, account of the ways we can learn from film, song, monuments, and political rituals to live more democratically by thinking more tragically. This book reveals, at its heart, the enjoyable practice of politics when freed from the sacrificial demands of political resentment."
Char Miller, George Mason University, Virginia
"This dynamite book is a powerful spur to thought, a wonderful teaching resource, and great read. Johnston takes a candid and responsible look at the intimate relationship between American democracy and violence: both state violence against democratic movements and violent tactics on behalf of the democratization of the polity. As much a positive project as a fearless critique, American Dionysia articulates and defends a concrete set of civic rituals, civic commemorations, alternative monuments and memorials, and political institutions designed to render American democracy more worthy of the name, a democracy, that is, that avows not only its successes but also the harmful costs of them, a democracy with a 'tragic sensibility'. This is a great book, inspiring and courageous, and it will alter the way you understand, practice and affirm democracy."
Jane Bennett, author of Vibrant Matter and editor of Political Theory: An International Journal of Political Philosophy
"Johnston presents an intriguing and important examination of a frequently overlooked phenomenon in contemporary democratic theory and practice - violence … [he) forces students of democracy and contemporary democratic citizens to realistically account for, and understand, the role of violence in contemporary democratic politics."
J. A. Pierceson, Choice
'Johnston argues that, contrary to conventional perspectives that see violence as antithetical to democracy, violence is in fact constitutive of democracy.' Heather Pinock, The Review of Politics
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- Date Published: May 2015
- format: Paperback
- isbn: 9781107496675
- length: 304 pages
- dimensions: 229 x 152 x 16 mm
- weight: 0.41kg
- availability: In stock
Table of Contents
Introduction: antinomies of democracy
1. American dionysia
2. Democracy at war with itself: citizens
3. Democracy at war with itself: animals
4. Forcing democracy to be free: Rousseau to Springsteen
5. Two cheers for democratic violence
6. New tragic democratic traditions
7. Conclusion: democracy's tragic affirmations.
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