Argues that South Africans, like everyone else, need democracy for a more equal society
What are democracies meant to do? And how does one know when one is a democratic state? These incisive questions and more by leading political scientist, Steven Friedman, underlie this robust enquiry into what democracy means for South Africa post 1994. Democracy is often viewed through a lens reflecting Western understanding. New democracies are compared to idealized notions by which the system is said to operate in the global North. The democracies of Western Europe and North America are understood to be the finished product and all others are assessed by how far they have progressed towards approximating this model.
Power in Action persuasively argues against this stereotype. Friedman asserts that democracies can only work when every adult has an equal say in the public decisions that affect them.Democracy is achieved not by adopting idealized models derived from other societies–rather, it is the product of collective action by citizens who claim the right to be heard not only through public protest action, but also through the conscious exercise of influence on public and private power holders.
Viewing democracy in this way challenges us to develop a deeper understanding of democracy’s challenges and in so doing to ensure that more citizens can claim a say over more decisions in society.
This is Steven Friedman at his best, combining an implicit passion for democratic change with considered analysis and judgement. By democratic change Friedman means going beyond electoral choice. He means that those who are poor must be able to shape and construct their own lives, structures of living and life choices. This is hardly simple and Friedman argues it is a long project in the making – but that it needs to be made. His argument forms an intellectually considered backdrop to unrest in today’s South Africa. It is a quarter century since majority rule elections were meant to transform South Africa – yet everywhere there is poverty, and there are the preludes to a great clash between elite views of what democracy entails, and what the economically disenfranchised will demand. Friedman’s book makes a critical and timely contribution to an urgent debate – timely because there may not be much time left.-Stephan Chan,Professor of World Politics, School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London
Intellectually superb. Friedman exposes the ideological zealotry of mainstream democratic transition theorists, exposing both their philosophical weaknesses and political hypocrisy. In the process he returns democratic Studies to what should be its core purpose: citizen participation and collective action. This magnificent book also provides a better framework to understand the democratic struggles underway in Africa and South Africa. An essential read for all those interested in the future of democracy in Africa and the rest of our politically polarized world.-Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of the Witwatersrand