Democracy is in crisis, suggests Paul Ginsborg. Although, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, there has been an increase in the number of countries belonging to the United Nations which can be "broadly defined as democratic" (120 out of 192 by 2000), he argues that the quality of democracy has sharply declined and the nature of politics has changed. This book, which uses the work of Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill as a backdrop, feels more in tune with the kind of active, engaged political process people are increasingly being deprived of.
What are the threats to democracy? Ginsborg is as specific as he is acerbic. Transnational companies "stalk the globe" in search of new markets and profits, able to shift their vast resources rapidly and change people's lives permanently. It isn't just that these enormously wealthy companies, upon which so much of our social fabric depends, constantly lobby politicians to legislate in ways that benefit their shareholders; they gain influence far more subtly, too. The "largest single cultural influence" on a family is television, a service which has become anything but that. Most TV companies are run by business empires, and the messages they broadcast are far from independent.
How can democracy be protected? The arguments here are imaginative, subtle and often wittily presented. Although Ginsborg initially deals with democracy as a political system, he goes on to make clear that the causes of the current crisis are not exclusively political. Economics plays a vital part, as does gender: "the reinvention and, one might say, the reanimation of democracy are intimately connected to it". This is the kind of work, infused with flair and conviction, that you wish politicians were still capable of.