Democracy Unchained

How to Rebuild Government for the People

A stellar group of America’s leading political thinkers explore how to reboot our democracy

“Democracy is a process, not a thing finished once and for all. It will always need repair and revitalization. Democracy is a wager that we, the citizens, have the stamina and wisdom to maintain a government truly of, by, and for the people.”
—from the foreword

The presidential election of 2016 highlighted some long-standing flaws in American democracy and added a few new ones. Across the political spectrum, most Americans do not believe that democracy is delivering on its promises of fairness, justice, shared prosperity, or security in a changing world. The nation cannot even begin to address climate change and economic justice if it remains paralyzed by political gridlock.

Democracy Unchained is about making American democracy work to solve problems that have long impaired our system of governance. The book is the collective work of thirty of the most perceptive writers, practitioners, scientists, educators, and journalists writing today, who are committed to moving the political conversation from the present anger and angst to the positive and constructive change necessary to achieve the full promise of a durable democracy that works for everyone and protects our common future. Including essays by Yascha Mounk on populism, Chisun Lee on money and politics, Ras Baraka on building democracy from the ground up, and Bill McKibben on climate, Democracy Unchained is the articulation of faith in democracy and will be required reading for all who are working to make democracy a reality.


“Where do we go from here? In Democracy Unchained some of the country’s best minds tackle this most urgent of questions. The result is a must-read for anyone interested in—or worried about—the future of our Republic.”
—Elizabeth Kolbert, staff writer, The New Yorker, Pulitzer Prize winner for The Sixth Extinction
“This remarkable book is like speed dialing the smartest minds in America, and getting them to tackle the country’s toughest problems. It’s full of fresh and urgently needed ideas.”
—Jane Mayer, chief Washington correspondent, The New Yorker
“This collection of essays by preeminent Americans from a wide array of backgrounds and professions may someday be recognized as the twenty-first-century equivalent of the Federalist Papers. Certainly the times are no less perilous than when Hamilton, Madison, and Jay set their pens to paper.”
—Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle and Our Wild Calling
“The looming climate catastrophe requires that we disenthrall ourselves from the constructs and assumptions of the past. Democracy Unchained presents an urgent opportunity to think anew, and to engage Americans from every part of America.”
—Tim Wirth, former U.S. senator from Colorado; president emeritus, United Nations Foundation
“Brilliant, provocative, and timely. These superb essays invite us to re-imagine and revitalize democratic institutions and practices. The invitation has never been more urgent or more persuasively articulated.”
—Mary Evelyn Tucker, Yale University, co-director, Forum on Religion and Ecology
“Whatever your greatest public worry—from the climate emergency to extreme inequality—none can be resolved without democracy. So, here’s your tool for getting to the root solution. Let’s dig deep together.”
—Frances Moore Lappé
“Cogent. . . . Wide-ranging. . . . Penetrating analyses of the nation’s ills.”
Kirkus Reviews
“A peerless, one-stop compendium that explains with welcome clarity why American democracy is in such peril—and what we must do to repair and reinvent it before it is too late. Read this book, share it, and act on its authors’ wise counsel. The stakes could not be higher.”
—Nancy MacLean, author of Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America
Democracy Unchained is an extraordinary compilation of essays on the parlous state of democracy in our country. Irrespective of whether you may disagree with some essays, every voting citizen should make the effort to read them all as they will stimulate serious thinking and make us better stewards of our democracy.”
—Theodore Roosevelt IV, managing director and chairman, Barclays Clean Tech Initiative
Democracy Unchained, in both spirit and substance, represents a revolutionary collection of voices and ideas imbued with the kind of hardheaded hope of which the country is in desperate need. We’ve grumbled amongst ourselves and wrung our hands long enough in the face of these issues, and now here comes an array of disparate and visionary thinkers ready to address the uncomfortable truths inherent in our flawed America.”
—Eliza Griswold, writer, Pulitzer Prize winner
“The five-alarm fire that is our democracy in the present moment is a conflagration of our own making, but also one that we alone can put out. This book is a warning, a jolt to the system, but also a way out.”
—Tim Egan, The New York Times
“This courageous book is a timely treatment of our crisis of democracy! The variety of powerful voices and cogency of analytical viewpoints are badly needed in these grim neo-fascist times!”
—Cornel West, Harvard University

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Book Excerpt

Read an excerpt from Democracy Unchained.

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