Michael G. Hanchard’s
new book The Spectre of Race: How Discrimination Haunts Western Democracies
(Princeton University Press, 2018) is a rich and complex examination of the question of discrimination in general, and racial discrimination specifically, within the study of comparative politics as a discipline, but more broadly how this particular issue, discrimination—of a variety of kinds—has generally shaped the structures and institutions of western democracies. This book brings together a number of threads that are not often considered together, specifically the question of the theoretical underpinnings of slavery, racial and ethnonational subordination, and the question of democracy in comparative analysis. A key component of the book is to analyze the question of slavery—which comes to the west through the classical experience in Athens—examining what slavery looked like, how it operated, and why it was implemented as it was in Athens. The defining characteristics that Hanchard unpacks in the classical analysis, in regard to those who are considered full members of a polity, or citizens, and those who exist in the society but are not integrated as citizens of the polity, frames the ongoing exploration of comparative politics and, especially, more modern democracies. Hanchard’s book is animated by these fundamental tensions, especially in regard to the way that the egalitarian ideals of democracy are complicated by the problematic dominance of ethno-national groups, religions, or races that have laid claim to the right to rule. Hanchard’s book also explains why race is vitally important to understanding comparative politics. This is an engaging and important study, and will be of interest to scholars and students of comparative politics, racial politics, identity politics, American politics, political theory, and political & comparative history.