The recent passing of Robert Dahl got me thinking about which of his works I value the most. Although best known for his New Haven study and the resulting works that came out of it, Who Governs?: Democracy and Power in an American City, Second Edition (Yale Studies in Political Science) and Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition among other, without a doubt I would say that A Preface to Democratic Theory, Expanded Edition is a must read. Dr. Dahl billed it as an introduction, but it is a rare introduction to a field of thought that can both revitalize that field and introduce new ways of thinking about its topics. He set-up an “argument” between the ideas of Madisonian and Populist democracy which spotlighted the contradictions in how America uses these concepts. How democratic are we? Who gets to participate? Where does power originate in our system? These questions form the backdrop of arguments used to this day by thinkers on both the right and the left. It is unfortunate that many of these thinkers do not even know the debt they owe to Dr. Dahl for his work.
Although I had never met him I always wanted the opportunity. At least we still have his books!