A leading political expert explains why systems fail to deliver things we all want—democracy, equality, solidarity, security and prosperity—and what can be done to create a just, equitable, and environmentally sane society.

The dawn of the twenty-first century had the promise of a golden age. The economy was stable and growing, social peace seemed possible, and technology appeared benign.
The past years have awakened us from this complacency.
  • We have long known what needs to be done to save the world from climate disaster. Why do we continue on the path of self-destruction?
  • The immense wealth of the United States should make poverty a historical curiosity. Why is income inequality growing and the scourge of poverty increasing?
  • The vast majority of people around the world want to live in a society with democratic values. Why is democracy receding?
Why is it so hard to get – and keep – the world we want?

Ben Ansell, one of the world’s leading experts on the dilemmas facing modern democracies, vividly illustrates how our collective goals – democracy, equality, solidarity, security, and prosperity – are undermined by political traps and why today’s political landscape is so tumultuous. We want equality, but we are loathe to give away our own wealth. We want solidarity but we are much better at receiving it than offering it. We want security but not if it constrains our freedom. And we want to end the climate crisis but we also want a prosperous economy. In every case, we want a collective goal, but are undermined by our individual actions. Our aims are altruistic, our actions governed by self-interest.

Ansell then comes full circle and through brilliant storytelling and pathbreaking research vividly  illustrates how we maneuver through the traps of the messy, complicated world of politics that block common sense solutions to the just, equitable, prosperous, and environmentally sane society we all want.


“An intelligent guide.” —Kirkus
"A meticulous study." —The Financial Times
“Ben Ansell is one of the world’s leading experts on the dilemmas facing modern democracies. Why Politics Fails is an incisive and gripping account of the political issues that matter most to all of us.” —Daniel Ziblatt, Harvard University, coauthor of How Democracies Die
“Ansell’s deep thinking is balanced by his crisp prose and accessible examples, giving the book the feel of a stimulating college lecture. It’s a stellar exposition of a subject that often feels too big to grasp.” —Publishers Weekly
“Beautifully written and engaging. Ansell pragmatically and vividly illustrates how to make the trade-offs that build a better society.” —Chris Blattman, University of Chicago, author of Why We Fight
“In these troubled times, we need the ideals of democracy and equality more than ever. Ansell’s brilliant book explains why they are so vital and how we can try to turn them into reality.” —Daron Acemoglu, coauthor of Why Nations Fail and Power and Progress
“Ansell quickly and concisely identifies the traps present in the practice of politics. In an era of great challenges, Why Politics Fails is all-the-more timely with Ansell’s practical ways to overcome political obstacles to collective decision making.” —Victor Shih, UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy
“Salutary reading for the world we live in now, bringing together the wisdom of what we have learned about the best way to organize government and cope with the problems and conflicts that inevitably arise when humans live together in society.”  —James A. Robinson, University of Chicago, coauthor of The Narrow Corridor and Why Nations Fail
“[A] fascinating and thought-provoking book.” —Business Post
“Pacy and provocative.” —Politics Home
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