Wokery at its worst

Democracy: A Very Short Introduction


Naomi Zack


£8.99, Oxford University Press



At 128 pages plus several appendices, this book, written by a philosopher, is neither very short and nor does it give any satisfactory definition of what a democracy is. Given its definitive title, the reader would expect the first chapter to address that question. Instead, the book describes democracies as a concept of ‘nations containing both governments and their societies that are democratic’. A wholly unacceptable definition and one I am still struggling to understand. I rushed to find a dictionary to assist.

From the outset it is difficult to identify the intended reader. I can only surmise that the desired audience comprises politicised philosophy students. From the outset, the first chapter insultingly tells me that as a female I can only aspire to the benefits of democracy along with anyone who is poor, non-white, disabled, non-heterosexual or non-binary. This is political wokery at its worst and surely belongs in a different volume.

Once past the first chapter, the book is interesting from a historical perspective in that it sets out details of past and present concepts of democracy. Hunter-gatherers were democratic because they shared work and property, while the ancient Greeks used ‘demokratia’ to allow people to participate in political life. The book also considers Magna Carta and the concept of equality that arose from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Only one paragraph, on page 99, brings a lightbulb moment – and I very nearly did not read that far, having put numerous exclamation and question marks in the borders. The author states that democratic governments practise free elections, and that individuals have a right to free speech, religion and assembly with checks on government powers. But the book then tells me that conceptions of democracy are dynamic, so I am back to square one seeking a definitive answer.


Michelle Gresty has been a local authority lawyer for over a decade, practising in a number of areas of law