Book of the week: Democracy and oligarchs

Book review: The OligarchAn interesting spin on the topical issues of power and inequality in society.


The Oligarch:Rewriting Machiavelli's The Prince for Our Timeby James SherryPublished by Palgrave Macmillan, £19.50.(Buy at Amazon)

Machiavelli's The Prince (published in 1532) is rightly regarded as one of the greatest books on leadership, as well an ironic commentary on the battle between democracy and dictatorship in Renaissance Italy. In The Oligarch, James Sherry attempts to rewrite Machiavelli's masterpiece for the modern age. In this case, its intended audience is not a 16th-century Italian prince, but the 21st-century technology tycoon, and Trump backer, Elon Musk.

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Sherry's basic argument is that all modern societies, even nominal democracies, are really controlled by wealthy and powerful elites, and run in their interests. He makes some acute observations about modern life, showing how companies integrate newly acquired firms into their wider culture and how the wealthy have taken advantage of American's diffuse power structure and lax campaign finance laws to influence the political agenda.

Overall, Sherry comes to the pessimistic conclusion that democracy does not stop oligarchs, and in some cases may even end up increasing their influence. Indeed, he argues that the best that people can hope for is that they are tamed and made to work in everyone's interest. He overstates his case at times and verges on conspiracy theory, but this is an interesting spin on the topical issues of power and inequality in society.

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