Improving Democracy

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Today’s Extending Wednesdays topic comes from the Global Politics section of Ideas Roadshow’s Extended Essay Guide for Students, where Stanford University political scientist and classicist Josiah Ober highlights some possible ways that our standard democratic practices might be improved, citing the work of fellow Stanford political scientist James Fishkin – below is a brief excerpt from related IBDP video resources.

Those interested in exploring the general theme of democracy can move in various directions spurred on by Professor Ober’s reflections. 

Students curious about Professor Fishkin’s deliberative polling techniques and where they have been directly applied, are referred to the clip Making Better Decisions as well as the references at the end of Chapter 9 in the associated eBook Democratic Lessons: What the Greeks Can Teach Us.  

Those motivated to more concretely compare and contrast democratic practices of Ancient Greece with those of our own day are directed to the clip, A Two-Way Street, as well as chapter 5 of the eBook and matching hour-long video.  Meanwhile, in our Extending Ideas in Global Politics video, the segment with Professor Ober concerns how social media might be best harnessed to improve our current democratic structures by bringing them more in line with some aspects of ancient Athenian practices. 

Students with a more historical bent might wish to examine how societal perceptions of ancient Athenian democratic practices changed drastically over time from a dangerous mistake to a heroic precedent.   In A Notable Exception, Professor Ober describes why he believes that ancient Athenian society provides a striking counterexample to Robert Michels’ so-called “Iron Law of Oligarchy”, while in Idealizing Democracy, historian and fellow classicist Richard Janko maintains that our idealized version of classical Athens stops us from looking objectively at its weaknesses. 

Additional Ideas Roadshow content relevant to generally explore the theme of democracy include the clips Democratic Misconceptions, Measuring Democracy, Rhetorical Insights, The Importance of Dialogue, The Merits of Dissent, Thinking It Through and Winning Ideas; the compilations Examining Democracy, Probing the Political and Tyranny of the Majority, and the hour-long video and matching eBook with University of Cambridge political scientist John Dunn Democracy: Clarifying the Muddle.


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