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Benjamin Barber, Strong Democracy (Berkeley and Los Angeles: UC Press, 1984).

I. Thin Democracy: Politics for Zoo Keeping (Chapter 1)


Liberal Democracy or Thin Democracy

1. Based upon the theory that humans are individualistic and selfish.

2. Promotes liberty, advance interests, and to keep men safely apart.


“It is concerned more to promote individual liberty than to secure


public justice, to advance interests rather than to discover goods, and to

keep men safely apart rather than to bring them fruitfully together” (4).


Three Dispositions

1. Anarchist

2. Realist

3. Minimalist


The American Political System as an Example (5)

1. Anarchist (values privacy, liberty, individualism, property, and rights)

2. Realist (values power, law, coercive mediation, and sovereign adjudication)

3. Minimalist (values tolerance, wariness of government, pluralism, and exercises

institutional caution to keep each other in check)


The Anarchist Disposition of Liberal Democracy

1. This disposition is the non-politics or the anti-political element

2. Fulfillment of needs and wants

a. “It disposes women and men to regard themselves as generically autonomous beings with needs and wants that can (at least in the abstract) be satisfied outside of coercive civil communities) (6).

3. Source of conflict

a. From the above thesis, problems arise from political participation rather than nonpolitical ones.

4. The individual and his autonomy

a. “Freedom is the absence of external constraints on individual action;

the natural condition of the individual is independence and solitude; and

human beings are by definition autonomous, separate, and free agents”


5. Political community is instrumental

a. “The aim is not to share in power or to be a part of a community but to contain power and community and to judge them by how they affect freedom and private interest” (7).

6. Human beings are not inherently political

a. “Citizenship is an artificial role that the natural man prudently adopts

in order to safeguard his solitary humanity. That is to so, we are political

in order to safeguard ourselves as men, but never men by virtue of being political (as Aristotle and the ancients would have had it)” (8).

F. The Realist Disposition in Liberal Democracy

1. Politics for the realist is an art of power to achieve an end.

2. Power leads to:

a. Fear

b. Manipulation

c. Enforcement

d. Deterrence

e. Incentive

f. Sanction

3. Realism in Western liberal democracy

a. “Legislatures and courts alike deploy penal sanctions and juridical incentives aimed at controlling behavior by manipulating – but not altering or transforming – hedonistic self-interest” (13). >

b. “People are not made to reformulate private interests in public terms

but are encouraged to reformulate public goods in terms of private advantage” (13).

G. The Minimalist Disposition in Liberal Democracy

1. The Problem

a. How to keep the custodians under control?

2. Philosophy


Resting on the attitudes of tolerance, skepticism, and wariness



“Convinced of the need both for power and for stringent limits on power” (15).



Politics as International Relations

1. It sees politics “as relations among beings too dependent and too naturally competitive to live in peaceful solitude yet too distrustful to live easily in mutuality” (15).


Politics of Toleration


“Minimalism promotes a politics of toleration in which every

interaction is hedged with temperance, every abdication [renunciation] of personal liberty is circumscribed by reservations, every grant of authority is hemmed in with guaranteed rights, and every surrender of privacy is safeguarded with limits” (15 – 16).


Distrust of the Individual and the State


Distrust of Majority Rule

i. “[I]f liberty can be safeguarded only when power is divided,

contained, and moderated, the most dangerous power is the most authoritative – namely, the sovereign power of the majority”


ii. This mistrust leads to hostility “to the people and to their ‘impulsive’ legislative tyranny” (16).

H. Politics as Zookeeping

1. Manipulating the People

a. The “liberal state manipulates men by first implanting terror in them and then, in return for their socially acceptable behavior and their prudential fealty, protecting them from it” (23).

2. The Liberal Man

a. Small, static, inflexible

i. “To identify liberal man as governed by need is to portray him

as small, static, inflexible, and above all prosaic – as a greedy

unable to see, for all his ratiocinating foresight,

little varmint

beyond his appetites” (23 – 24).>

b. Incapable of bearing the weight of ideals

i. “A creature of appetite, or of reason indentured to appetite,

liberal man is seen as incapable of bearing the weight of his ideals” (24).

c. Freedom is selfishness

i. “Freedom becomes indistinguishable from selfishness and is

corrupted from within by apathy, alienation, and anomie…” (24)

d. Equality is market exchangeability

i. “[E]quality is reduced to market exchangeability and divorced from its necessary familial and social contexts…” (24).

e. Happiness

i. “[H]appiness is measured by material gratification to the detriment of the spirit” (24).

ii. “Perhaps this is why the miracle of American democracy has produced dropouts as well as beneficiaries, malcontents as well as successes, lost souls as well as millionaires, terrorism as well as abundance, social conflict as well as security, and injustice as well as the forms of civility.