How Should We Govern Ourselves at Home?

Journal of Law, Culture and the Humanities, Forthcoming

19 Pages Posted: 9 Sep 2009 Last revised: 14 Nov 2012

See all articles by Darien Shanske

Darien Shanske

University of California, Davis - School of Law

Date Written: September 6, 2009


All three books are reviewed with an eye towards the possibilities of local democracy in the contemporary United States and in particular on whether or not there is a tradeoff between democracy and prosperity. All three books argue that there is no such tradeoff - whether viewed from the perspective of the first democracy (namely Athens), or from the perspective of seemingly dysfunctional contemporary small democracies (e.g., cities in large modern democratic polities), or even from the perspective of all of human history - democracy spurs material success. In this essay, we will consider how this can be so, especially at the local level in modern democracies. The essay concludes that there is much to recommend vibrant local direct democracy, even now, but observes that, somewhat ironically, realizing the promise of bold democratic leadership by amateurs first requires that new governmental structures be expertly applied from above.

Books Reviewed (in order): 1) Josiah Ober, Democracy and Knowledge: Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008); 2) Douglass C. North, John Joseph Wallis, Barry R. Weingast, Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009); 3) Gerald E. Frug and David J. Barron, City Bound: How States Stifle Urban Innovation (Cornell: Cornell University Press, 2008).

Keywords: Athens, democratic theory, open access orders, municipal incorporation

Suggested Citation

Shanske, Darien, How Should We Govern Ourselves at Home? (September 6, 2009). Journal of Law, Culture and the Humanities, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: or

Darien Shanske (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )

400 Mrak Hall Dr
Davis, CA CA 95616-5201

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