... elegantly written and often intelligent, yet remains a fragmentary, incomplete and at times stunningly imprecise book ... Reid-Henry narrates this story with elegance and gusto. He strives to leave no base untouched and jumps confidently from examining western Sydney’s urban transformation to commenting on Verona’s communist social clubs. Unfortunately, this confidence seems often unwarranted, and the book is marred by inexcusable factual mistakes ... The paperback edition that this book deserves will certainly need much more thorough editing and fact-checking ... covers an impressive array of issues and national examples, although it tends sometimes to lump together, often under vague labels such as 'neoliberalism' or 'monetarism,' experiences that were much more dissimilar than Reid-Henry would have us believe.
Empire of Democracy gives us a detailed account...telling us how we got to where we are today and tracking the rise and fall of an economic, social, and political order that now seems to be under fundamental and potentially lethal pressure. Despite the convincing nature of his overall diagnosis of the strengths and weaknesses of neoliberalism, however, there are many problems with how Reid-Henry tells this story, starting with the narrative style in which he has chosen to cast it. To put it bluntly, he doesn’t seem to be aware of even the most basic rules of historical narrative. Individual actors in the story, from Mitterrand to Trump, are introduced with only scant background information; important dates are missing in dense chapters; and statements and observations are ventured without any attempt to ground them in evidence ... There are more substantive problems as well. For quite long stretches of the book, I found it difficult to understand the sweeping generalizations that pepper the text ... Often, Reid-Henry’s use of the passive voice disguises an almost complete absence of detail ... In many sections, the book reads more like a commentary on events than an analytical narrative ... There are still many passages in this book that can be read with considerable profit ... The book offers a wide-ranging narrative of what happened in one part of the world, but because its scope is restricted by its reliance on the outdated notion of the West, the full story of today’s crisis remains to be told.
This last sentence, a sweeping, overconfident generalisation, is typical of his style. It takes courage to cram the past half-century of western political history into a single book, and to his credit he has clearly read widely and thought deeply about everything ... But when you boil it down, and there is a lot to boil down, his argument is very familiar, and becomes more predictable as it goes on ... there are no specifics ... For all its erudition, his book suffers from three weaknesses. The first is that much of his narrative is so well known...Second, as the book nears the present day, Reid-Henry’s prejudices become increasingly glaring ... Above all, though, his book is too lofty, as if Reid-Henry has become so comfortable on his Olympian perch that he is incapable of getting back down to the ground. Entire pages go by without a human being saying anything, doing anything or even being mentioned. When individuals do appear, they are almost always politicians, bankers or intellectuals. Given that his book is entitled Empire of Democracy, would it have killed him to have included one or two voters?
The nuanced analysis, however, is at times overwhelmed by the book’s length: concision would have amplified the argument, as would a greater variety of voices amid the rigorous research (there are extensive endnotes but sadly no bibliography) ... There is perhaps a lack of hard economic data, but Reid-Henry convincingly shows that the very nature of democracy and citizenship were being fundamentally altered by 'institutional reconfigurations, political epiphanies and societal changes of heart' ... Reid-Henry’s thoughtful epilogue asks what might be the future for democracy. To avoid an age of extremes, he persuasively argues that we must move beyond the idea of popular sovereignty as merely the blunt majority will of a national electorate. He concludes with a vital observation ... Examining the history of our own time is crucial to understanding the challenges we face.
Reid-Henry attempts, with mixed success, to corral and synthesize the last half-century of Western democratic states in this sprawling history ... Reid-Henry’s scholarship is impressive, gathering a wide range of historical anecdotes and referencing a diverse set of thinkers, but this erudite and formidable project ultimately falters under the immense weight of its massive ambitions. The overwhelming volume of varied historical and cultural events require jumping from event to event with dizzying speed. Moments of succinct, elegant analysis can be lost among verbose passages. The immense scope and intermittently dense prose make this a daunting task for all but the most committed of readers.
The author’s cogent analysis is undermined at times by convoluted prose, and although his evidence is abundant and compelling, the book might well have been judiciously honed. Nevertheless, he conveys an important message: Individual political action must become accountable to society’s interests ... A persuasive argument that democratic values can be revived.