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The Civic Bargain: How Democracy Survives

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In a synthesis of political theory, historical narrative, and practical advice, Brook Manville and Josiah Ober trace the evolution towards self-government through political bargaining in Athens, Rome, Great Britain, and the United States. Democratic self-government means having no boss other than ourselves. Democracy arises when citizens strike a civic bargain: an always imperfect agreement for how they will govern themselves. For democracy to survive, citizens must agree that security and welfare are common interests; they must set the bounds of citizenship and agree on core institutions. They must be willing to negotiate in good faith and must treat one another as civic friends, not political enemies. They must invest in civic education. Democracy survives when the civic bargain evolves adaptively in the face of new challenges.


Josiah Ober is Constantine Mitsotakis Professor in the School of Humanities and Science, Professor of Political Science and Classics, and Senior Fellow (by courtesy) at the Hoover Institution. He is the founder and current faculty director of the Stanford Civics Initiative. He joined the Stanford faculty in 2006, having previously taught at Princeton and Montana State Universities. His scholarship focuses on historical institutionalism and political theory, especially democratic theory and the contemporary relevance of the political thought and practice of the ancient Greeks. He is the author of The Greeks and the Rational: The Discovery of Practical Reason (2022), Demopolis: Democracy before Liberalism (2017), The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece (2015), and a number of other books. He has published about 100 articles and chapters, including recent articles in American Political Science ReviewPhilosophical StudiesPolis, and Public Choice. His new book, The Civic Bargain: How Democracy Survives (with Brook Manville), was published in September by Princeton University Press.

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