Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism


Richard Moore

Democracy Incorporated:
Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism
Sheldon S. Wolin

Winner of a 2008 Lannan Notable Book Award

Cloth | 2008 | $29.95 / £21.95
376 pp. | 6 x 9

Democracy is struggling in America–by now this statement is almost cliché. But what if the country is no longer a democracy at all? In Democracy Incorporated, Sheldon Wolin considers the unthinkable: has America unwittingly morphed into a new and strange kind of political hybrid, one where economic and state powers are conjoined and virtually unbridled? Can the nation check its descent into what the author terms “inverted totalitarianism”?

Wolin portrays a country where citizens are politically uninterested and submissive–and where elites are eager to keep them that way. At best the nation has become a “managed democracy” where the public is shepherded, not sovereign. At worst it is a place where corporate power no longer answers to state controls. Wolin makes clear that today’s America is in no way morally or politically comparable to totalitarian states like Nazi Germany, yet he warns that unchecked economic power risks verging on total power and has its own unnerving pathologies. Wolin examines the myths and mythmaking that justify today’s politics, the quest for an ever-expanding economy, and the perverse attractions of an endless war on terror. He argues passionately that democracy’s best hope lies in citizens themselves learning anew to exercise power at the local level.

Democracy Incorporated is one of the most worrying diagnoses of America’s political ills to emerge in decades. It is sure to be a lightning rod for political debate for years to come.

Sheldon S. Wolin is professor emeritus of politics at Princeton University. His books include Politics and Vision and Tocqueville between Two Worlds (both Princeton).


“If democracy means more than occasional elections and protection of those rights that are compatible with economic and political elites’ interests, Wolin’s analysis of our democratic predicament is shocking, solid, and fundamentally correct.”–C.P. Waligorski, Choice

“Of the many books I’ve read or skimmed in the past seven years that attempted to get inside the social and political debacles of the present, none has had the chilling clarity and historical discernment of Sheldon S. Wolin’s Democracy Incorporated. Building on his fifty years as a political theorist and proponent of radical democracy, Wolin here extends his concern with the extinguishing of the political and its replacement by fraudulent simulations of democratic process.”–Jonathan Crary, Artforum


“With his fundamental grasp of political theory and restless spirit to get at the essence of what threatens modern democracy, Wolin demonstrates that the threats to our democratic traditions and institutions are not always from outside, but may come from within. It is a book that policymakers and scholars of contemporary society should read and reflect upon.”–Rakesh Khurana, Harvard Business School, author of From Higher Aims to Hired Hands

“As we’ve come to expect from Sheldon Wolin, a tightly argued and deeply revealing book about the dangers of unconstrained capitalism for our democracy.”–Robert B. Reich, University of California, Berkeley

More Endorsements

Table of Contents:

Preface ix
Acknowledgments xvii
preview 1
Chapter One: Myth in the Making 4
Chapter Two: Totalitarianism’s Inversion: Beginnings of the Imaginary of a Permanent Global War 15
Chapter Three: Totalitarianism’s Inversion, Democracy’s Perversion 41
Chapter Four: The New World of Terror 69
Chapter Five: The Utopian Theory of Superpower: The Official Version 82
Chapter Six: The Dynamics of Transformation 95
Chapter Seven: The Dynamics of the Archaic 114
Chapter Eight: The Politics of Superpower: Managed Democracy 131
Chapter Nine: Intellectual Elites against Democracy 159
Chapter Ten: Domestic Politics in the Era of Superpower and Empire 184
Chapter Eleven: Inverted Totalitarianism: Antecedents and Precedents 211
Chapter Twelve: Demotic Moments 238
Chapter Thirteen: Democracy’s Prospects: Looking Backwards 259
Notes 293
Index 339

Other Princeton books by Sheldon S. Wolin:

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