John Keane is Professor of Politics at the University of Sydney and at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (WZB). He is the Director of the newly-founded OnDemocracy.org initiative and the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (IDHR). Proud of his South Australian roots, John was educated at the Universities of Adelaide and Toronto (where he was mentored by C.B.Macpherson) and King’s College, University of Cambridge.
Well before the European revolutions of 1989, he first came to public prominence as a defender of ‘civil society’ and the democratic opposition in central and eastern Europe. His political and scholarly writing during that period was often published under the pen name Erica Blair. In 1989 he founded the world’s first Centre for the Study of Democracy in London. During his many years living in Europe, The Times ranked him one of Britain’s leading political thinkers and writers whose work has 'world-wide importance'. The Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) has described him as “one of Australia’s great intellectual exports".
Among his best-known books are The Media and Democracy (translated into more than 25 languages); the best-selling biography Tom Paine: A Political Life (2009); a new interpretation of the gains and losses of globalisation Global Civil Society (2003); Violence and Democracy (2004); and The Future of Representative Democracy (2011). He writes a column for the London/Melbourne-based web platform The Conversation. His Life and Death of Democracy was short-listed for the 2010 Non-Fiction Prime Minister's Literary Award. It is the first full-scale history of democracy for over a century. Portuguese, Greek and Brazilian translations have appeared and Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Spanish editions are on their way.
Disquiet and disaffection are spreading through the drought fields of democracy. The trends demand unorthodox political thinking, a new sense of urgency about democracy’s strengths and weaknesses. But fresh democratic thinking requires different methods of saying things, of exposing silences and taken-for-granted presumptions. The academic article and the book are poorly suited to the task. Notebooks are a better medium for doing these things: they’re a democratic form of writing, as I try to show in a new column for the Melbourne-based web platform The Conversation. Made up of broken and interrupted fragments, they grip the ground but don’t suppose they own it. The democracy notebooks expose perplexities and pose question marks. But as you read them please remember: there are no known maps, timetabled destinations or guaranteed safe passages.
The Democracy Field Notes series is also available to Spanish readers.
Vibrant democracies need sharp-angled and unceremonious characters like Lou Reed who can rail against imperiousness and conformity, writes John Keane. It’s said often that democracy requires shared public virtues such as respect for others and belief in free and fair elections, as well as the ability of citizens to live with differences and have a [...]
News of the 2013 Japanese translation of John Keane’s The Life and Death of Democracy Download Flyer
Is Democracy Not For Everyone? John Keane at the Sydney Opera House
Talk delivered at the the Universitat Jaume I, Castelló de la Plana, Spain, 5 February 2009
WikiLeaks has a proud legacy in the fight against the secrecy of the powerful, but its shambolic debut as a political party did nothing to advance the cause of accountability, writes John Keane. There are three sensitive secrets I’d like to reveal about the topical subject of secrets. The first is surely the most obvious, [...]
The political turmoil around the world has a common theme—that democracies are failing to address the rising expectations of the affluent and educated middle class. Professor Francis Fukuyama and Professor John Keane speak to Dr. Norman Swan about what the future holds for democracy if it cannot deliver on the promise of middle-class prosperity.
Perhaps the only bright democratic light in this dark crisis surrounding Syria is the unexpected growth of a cross-border, large-scale and ultimately global denunciation of the follies and horror of war, writes John Keane. Does democracy have anything to do with the worsening humanitarian catastrophe in Syria? In recent days, in editorials and columns around [...]
‘No bourgeois, no democracy’ is the racy formulation penned half a century ago by the American historian Barrington Moore Jr. It’s a well-known political maxim, one that’s often used in support of the view that to be middle class is to be solidly, instinctively on the side of parliamentary democracy. But what happens if a middle [...]
A recent poll by the Lowy Institute suggests many young Australians are ambivalent about the virtues of democracy, while leading democracy scholar John Keane warns that democracy has reached a ‘tipping point’ similar to the 1930s. Three political thinkers give us their perspectives on the changing nature of the Democratic tradition and where it [...]
Senator Scott Ludlam has city life and urban thinking hard-wired into his political genes, and believes that cities are becoming political laboratories. John Keane spoke with the Senator about the future of Australian cities. In the stormy history of democracy, cities have played a pivotal role as sites of public assembly, sanctuaries for the persecuted, [...]