Two Cheers for Politics

Why Democracy Is Flawed, Frightening—and Our Best Hope


By Jedediah Purdy

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One of the country’s most astute legal scholars explains how American political culture disempowers ordinary citizens and makes the case for a reinvigorated democracy 

Americans across the political spectrum agree that our democracy is in crisis. We view our political opponents with disdain, if not terror, and an increasing number of us are willing to consider authoritarian alternatives. In Two Cheers for Politics, Jedediah Purdy argues that this heated political culture is a symptom not of too much democracy but too little. Today, the decisions that most affect our lives and our communities are often made outside the political realm entirely, as market ideology, constitutional law, and cultural norms effectively remove broad swaths of collective life from the table of collective decision. The result is a weakened and ineffective political system and an increasingly unequal and polarized society. If we wish to renew that society, we’ll need to claw back the ground that we’ve ceded to anti-politics and entrust one another with the power to shape our common life. 
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  • “Purdy combines hard-edged critiques of inequality with a warm tone of hope and a longing for a degree of trust across our barricades of suspicion…What he’s calling for amounts to a new ecology of democracy. If we require clean air and clean water to preserve life, we need a degree of social solidarity, trust and genuine equality to save democracy…at a time of cynicism bordering on nihilism, his faith in the capacity of his fellow citizens to undertake the work of social reconstruction is refreshing.”
    E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post
  • “Purdy’s commitment to majority rule is reiterated strongly and eloquently throughout the book, a rarity in today’s academic thought.”
    Los Angeles Review of Books
  • “A complex if elegantly written manifesto, this is a book intended to make you stop grousing on Twitter about everything that’s been lost and instead get you excited to return to the fray, to participate once more in the struggle that is real political life.”
    The Nation
  • “A nuanced prescription for a politics remade in the wake of the Trump era . . . Purdy argues convincingly that reforms must address issues such as economic and social inequality, predatory capitalism, and ‘systems of relentless, hierarchical pressure.’ The alternative is to lose democracy, he warns, which is to surrender any decision making authority over our own lives.”
  • “An unflinching yet hopeful study of democracy’s origins, shortcomings, and enduring importance . . .This stimulating defense of democracy provides much food for thought.”
    Publishers Weekly
  • “What a demanding, profound, and timely book! I started Purdy’s excavation of anti-political beliefs with a confidence that I both knew and scorned his targets and found instead an intimate portrait of my own fears, and a fascinating genealogy of the antidemocratic frameworks that pass as democratic. Two Cheers for Politics reads easily over rough terrain—dare we take power for a chaotic we, dare we trust in the incompleteness of shared sovereignty? I strongly recommend this brilliant fabric of our past and possible futures woven together.”
    Zephyr Teachout, professor of law, Fordham University
  • “Purdy’s sweeping review of the historical and philosophical underpinnings of democracy reminds us that the problems we face are not new. Concentrated economic interests often try to narrow the scope of what we can achieve through collective political action, but we have the potential to shake loose the cobwebs of our Constitution and give life to a multiracial democracy. Too many have shed blood for the right to vote for us to pretend now that politics don’t matter.” 
    Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, author of We Are Called to Be A Movement
  • “Purdy brilliantly argues that we need politics, and that our politics needs to be democratic. Democracy means voting rights, but also much more: an economy that empowers citizens and a culture where what joins us together matters more than what divides us. The alternative is an apathy and anti-politics which will make justice impossible. We need to defend our democracy and also to build it up and deepen it.”
    Ro Khanna, member of Congress and author of Dignity in a Digital Age
  • “An essayist and moralist for our generation, long known for capturing the incongruity between our arrangements and our aspirations with great eloquence, Purdy has become the advocate for redeeming democracy from its limitations that we need right now. Addressing how constitutional law and economic hierarchy leave Americans tempted to despair, Purdy avoids blind alleys in search of exits from political impasse, with self-rule by equal citizens a credible—indeed, our only—hope.” 
    Samuel Moyn, Yale University
  • Two Cheers for Politics is a powerful antidote to the despair that characterizes discussions of democracy in our times, combining clear-eyed analysis of the challenges democracies face with a refreshing historical diagnosis of how we got to this point—and how we might move beyond it. Jedediah Purdy’s eloquent book restores moral dignity and political plausibility to the idea of democracy.”
    Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Princeton University
  • “In this imaginative history of ideas, Purdy provides a provocative account of democracy—what it is, what it has been, and what it might be if only we believed in it. This is a bracing critique of politics as usual and an important defense of democratic life.”
    Katrina Forrester, Harvard University

On Sale
Aug 30, 2022
Page Count
304 pages
Basic Books

Jedediah Purdy

About the Author

Jedediah Purdy teaches at Duke Law School and is a noted scholar of environmental, property, and constitutional law. His work has appeared in the Atlantic, the New York Times, and the New Yorker, among other outlets, and he is on the editorial board of Dissent. He lives with his family in North Carolina. 

Learn more about this author