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Power in Action: Democracy, Citizenship and Social Justice, Steven Friedman

Reviewed by Eric S. Mclaughlin

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Steven Friedman presents a thoughtful inquiry into democracy and democratic consolidation, articulating significant critiques of some of the dominant schools of thought in this literature. The book’s theoretical argument is infused throughout with an activist’s voice and a normative concern for social justice and democracy that works for the weak as well as the strong.

The first several chapters of Power in Action are devoted to critiquing much of the literature on democratic consolidation. Friedman argues that too much of this work at least implicitly assumes that Western democracies are the only fully consolidated, “finished” democracies. Democracy here is defined as popular sovereignty, a political community governing itself “through the exercise of the equal decision-making rights and powers of each of its members” (p. 24). This understanding of democracy is both useful and universal. In one of the book’s strongest chapters, Friedman offers a retort against those who argue that some places or peoples may not be ready for democracy or desire it in the first place.

Democracies come in a variety of institutional forms, but what matters to Friedman is the extent to which the people in a state can use their popular sovereignty. For this, citizens must be able engage in what he calls “ro

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