Robert B. Talisse, "Sustaining Democracy: What We Owe to the Other Side" (Oxford UP, 2021)


Robert Talisse’s new book, Sustaining Democracy: What We Owe to the Other Side (Oxford UP, 2021) is, in a certain sense, a continuation of his work from his previous book, Overdoing Democracy: Why We Must Put Politics in its Place (Oxford University Press, 2019). As we discuss during the podcast conversation, Sustaining Democracy explores the conundrum or tension that may well be inherent in democracy, the conflict between holding fast to our beliefs about what we think is just and appropriate for society, and giving our political opponents the respect they deserve even if we disagree with their beliefs about justice. This is tricky, especially in our polarized political world, but Talisse argues that it is the very polarization that we need to pay attention to, since there are two kinds of polarization, external and internal. We have become used to the external polarization within democracy, which does not solve the problem, but it has become regularized to cast our political opponents as an “enemy” who does not, in fact, support justice and equality—on whichever side of the aisle one sits. This is the warped perspective that is applied by many to those with whom they politically disagree. Sustaining Democracy also exposes the growing anti-democratic, hierarchical shifts that have transpired within political groups. As noted throughout the book, Talisse highlights the need for internal reflection, especially among those who are on the “same side,” so that the political dynamics among like-minded citizens don’t devolve into opinion policing and echo chambers. Part of the concern here is the inclination within these political groupings towards homogeneity and conformity. This is belief polarization—and it pushes in undemocratic directions. Talisse, in a somewhat contrarian approach, wants to determine if the solution to democracy’s problems is not, in fact, more democracy, as has often been suggested. The solution may be to move away from the political fray for a time, to reflect on ideas and issues on one’s own, and to then re-enter the political community. This is a lively and frustrating thesis, and the conversation and the book reflect these overlapping tensions and considerations about democracy, deliberation, and political engagement.

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). Email her comments at or tweet to @gorenlj.

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Lilly Goren

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI.

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