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Democracy Defended
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  • 5 b/w illus. 59 tables
  • Page extent: 500 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.797 kg
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 (ISBN-13: 9780521534314 | ISBN-10: 0521534313)

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$58.99 (C)

Is there a public good? A prevalent view in political science is that democracy is unavoidably chaotic, arbitrary, meaningless, and impossible. Such scepticism began with Condorcet in the eighteenth century, and continued most notably with Arrow and Riker in the twentieth century. In this powerful book, Gerry Mackie confronts and subdues these long-standing doubts about democratic governance. Problems of cycling, agenda control, strategic voting, and dimensional manipulation are not sufficiently harmful, frequent, or irremediable, he argues, to be of normative concern. Mackie also examines every serious empirical illustration of cycling and instability, including Rikers famous argument that the US Civil War was due to arbitrary dimensional manipulation. Almost every empirical claim is erroneous, and none is normatively troubling, Mackie says. This spirited defence of democratic institutions should prove both provocative and influential.


1. A long, dark shadow over democratic politics; 2. The doctrine of democratic irrationalism; 3. Is democratic voting inaccurate?; 4. The Arrow general possibility theorem; 5. Is democracy meaningless? Arrow's condition of unrestricted domain; 6. Is democracy meaningless? Arrow's condition of the independence of irrelevant alternatives; 7. Strategic voting and agenda control; 8. Multidimensional chaos; 9. Assuming irrational actors: the Powell Amendment; 10. Assuming irrational actors: the Depew amendment; 11. Unmanipulating the manipulation: the Wilmot proviso; 12. Unmanipulating the manipulation: the election of Lincoln; 13. Antebellum politics concluded; 14. More of Riker's cycles debunked; 15. Other cycles debunked; 16. New dimensions; 17. Plebiscitarianism against democracy; 18. Democracy resplendent.

Prize Winner

APSA: Co-Winner of the Gladys M. Krammerer Award (2004)


"...path-breaking, thorough, and innovative...It will be 'must reading' for all who wish to understand democracy given the work in the social field over the last 50 years." Social Justice Research, Joe Oppenheimer

"This brilliant counterrevolutionary book makes a frontal attack on the widely accepted claim that Kenneth Arrow's impossibility theorem for social choice shows democracy to be impossible, arbitrary, and meaningless. In delightfully direct and jargon-free language, Mackie demolishes the theoretical and empirical bases for this claim, notably in the strong version defended by William Riker and his students. His careful and exhaustive re-examination of all the instances on which Riker based his arguments is particularly valuable. At the same time, he puts up a strong defense--two cheers at least--for the institutions of representative democracy. After this vigorous and rigorous attack, social choice theory will never be the same again." Jon Elster, Columbia University

"This is a true tour de force. Gerry Mackie has looked at many of William Riker's best known stories about great manipulations in American history. In almost every case, Riker's story does not hold up--but Mackie's story is as interesting as Riker's. This book is a must read for everyone interested in analytical narratives and political theory." Iain McLean, University of Oxford

"Democracy Defended, by Gerry Mackie, is the latest shooting star in the political science galaxy... [T]he book contains many terrific points, as important to lawyers who think about appellate decisions, legislative intent, and voting law as to the book's intended audience." Saul Levmore, Dean, University of Chicago Law School, for University of Chicago Law Review

"Mackie does an awfully nice job explaining and exploring Arrow's work....Mackie's chapter (six) on [Arrow's independence] condition, standing alone, is more than worth the price of this hefty volume. As careful as he is with Arrow's formal theory, though, Mackie's passionate interest -- and original contribution -- lies in shredding the extensions and empirical applications offered by the late William Riker and his followers at Rochester....Mackie's response [to Riker's most famous example of cycling] is so devastating, so mortifying, that I stopped breathing when I read it....Mackie is beyond tenacious, he is the Inspector Javert of polemics, in ruthlessly tracking down and demolishing every single purported instance of cycling Riker offered, as well as other instances floating around in the literature. His reexamination of the historical record in these cases is original and profound....Not many heretical tracts are as fun as this one, either." Don Herzog, University of Michigan Law School, for University of Chicago Law Review

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