How Democracy Ends

David Runciman

Human, Social, and Political Sciences

How Democracy Ends

Review by:

Nancy Tupling

20 February 2021

‘How Democracy Ends’ is a must-read politics related book. It describes and evaluates, through accessible language usage, three potential scenarios that could bring about the death of representative democracy in the world. Coup, catastrophe and technological takeover are the three possible scenarios Runciman explores, which, after the Climate Strikes, attack on the Capitol and the ever-growing influence of technology in our lives, makes this book a great talking point in both your personal statement and potentially at interview because it demonstrates how you can link your reading to what you see around you. Runciman also explores if there could be something better than our representative democracy.

I think this is a must-read for politics students as not only is it an incredibly topical and interesting read, it also gives a great introduction to political thinkers. Runciman outlines the ideas of Thomas Hobbes, Max Weber, Tocqueville, and Hannah Arendt regarding the modern state. These political thinkers are core ideas you will explore in the first year of HSPS and they are also bound to be in any other politics curriculum at other universities, making this book extremely useful and a good introduction into these sometimes complex views. In addition, this book itself is one that is explored in the final term of first year and your supervisor could set you an essay about it. David Runciman is also a politics lecturer at Cambridge and his lectures are similar to his writings in the way he articulates himself so it may be useful in that sense to get somewhat of a grasp on the way lectures will be presented.

As my cohort’s A-Levels were cancelled last year (2020), my college got in touch with some recommended summer reading and some podcasts as we had six months of nothing before university started. Although this book was not on the list, the podcast ‘Talking Politics’ was which Runciman speaks on. I’d also recommend that podcast along with the book as the two go hand in hand together.

One quote I thought was particularly powerful was when Runciman was discussing how the threat of nuclear weapons damages representative democracy was:

“To save the republic its commander-in-chief is empowered to kill it.”

The idea that only the person in charge can have the power to wipe out our society, rather than a group of military officials is both against representative democracy and also an attempt to save it from potential military coups. In the wrong hands this power can be extremely dangerous and critical discussions of our society are key to this book and will help you to develop the skills you will need for critical essay writing and supervisions at university.