Dave Meslin, Teardown: Rebuilding Democracy From The Ground Up, Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2019, 384 pages
There are many books today about the problems of how politics works, or about how we are straining the limits of representative democracy. Too Dumb for Democracy (David Moscrop) Democracy May Not Exist But Weil Miss it When It's Gone (Astra Taylor), and III Winds: Saving Democracy from Russian Rage, Chinese Ambition and American Complacency (Larry Diamond), are but a smattering of 2019 titles alone. But few are as tactical and deep in the solutions they propose (or as hopeful) as Dave Meslin's new book Teardown: Rebuilding Democracy from the Ground Up.
While the book's title Teardown may prompt you to assume that the author is asking for anarchy and a total rejection of the current systems and institutions of governance, the approach he prescribes actually asks us to take apart each facet of representative democracy, clean it up and then put it back together. And, unlike many books on democracy that tend to focus on the usual suspects--be it elections, or political parties Meslin takes a much broader view. You'll read about ballots and civics classes, but you'll also reflect on the charity law, workplace decision-making and even block parties.
The author describes himself as a "political biologist," studying our democratic "swamp" over the last 20 years. His tone throughout is refreshingly playful. At heart, he's a democracy activist; but he's also held jobs inside political parties and legislatures as a fundraiser, staffer and campaign strategist for many levels of government and he has worked with many different partisans. He knows every problematic and beautiful aspect of Canadian democracy. This book is certainly not an academic project--though it does occasionally cite academic research. It reads more like an enthusiastic guided tour with a seasoned storyteller. In the process, you are asked to look at our democratic institutions, rules and culture with fresh eyes.
Meslin begins the book by exploring the systemic ways that everyday people are kept out of political decision making--whether through signage that is misleading, poor timing for community engagement events or the lack of inclusion of new voices in political parties. He also explores how the complexity of our political system reinforces the ability of those with the know-how, or the money to pay for lobbyists, to obtain greater influence and access. For example, he...