The Road to Political Democracy From Plato to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. By Robert Senelle, Emile Clément and Edgard Van de Velde.

Book review

The Road to Political Democracy

From Plato to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

By Robert Senelle, Emile Clément and Edgard Van de Velde.

Foreword by Stephen Breyer, Justice of the United States Supreme Court

Post-script by Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council

[1071 pages,with index]


Democracy… an enjoyable kind of regime, anarchic, colourful,

 and granting equality of a sort to equals and unequals alike.


Plato, The Republic, Book VIII, 558c-561c


I was deeply honored when the authors asked me to write a short review; it is a heavy task to evaluate a book about Political Democracy, since Democracy, as a universal value and human rights protection go hand by hand, especially in the 21st century.


Despite of Plato’s disapproval of the democratic regime and its value, in Book VIII of his Republic, through Socrates, he states something that is the core element of a democratic state or regime. More precisely, Socrates says that democracy grants,  equality of a sort to equals and unequals alike, and this very equality is something for what democracy should be admired, compared to other regimes that humanity has experienced throughout human history.


Sometimes, we tend to forget what democracy is, as well as the democratic values and behavior; consequently we forget the significance of human rights. In the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is clearly stated that “disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind”. This disregard is not limited only to human rights, but to democratic values as well. People tend to forget the supreme value of equality before the law,  and their unfamiliarity is one of the perils to modern democracy and the consequent protection of human rights. This danger to democracy and human rights, mostly after 1945, is tackled by the United Nations and various regional organizations through international conventions and treaties.


Since the adoption of the UN Charter, the UDHR, the two Covenants (recognized as the Bill of Human Rights) and the other seven fundamental treaties providing mechanism for examination of integration of their provisions, the adoption of human rights institutions within the UN and in the framework of Specialized Agencies, we observe that Democracy and democratic values are universal. In the 21st century, international organizations have demonstrated their will for political democracy in their member states, by accepting in their “family”, states only with Parliamentary Democracy, and above all with respect to human rights. Based always, according to international law, on the consent of states, the network of the international conventions is growing up to the benefit of human beings and democracies. At regional level the notion of democracy stands even higher since the 50s, when membership in the CoE required parliamentary democracy, the OAS not totalitarian regimes and the EU the fulfillment of the Copenhagen Criteria.


This book, apart from being a unique reminder about the evolution of political democracy and the historical difficulties that it went through, it is also an excellent corpus, of the most important historical scripts about democracy, human rights, the division of powers and the state.  It contains profound presentations and useful comments on scripts of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, the Magna Carta, the Habeas Corpus Act and the Bill of Rights, three of the most important documents in our legal history. Likewise, there is a very interesting presentation of significant documents that endorsed the evolution of Political Democracy as it is established nowadays; such as  the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the United States Declaration of Independence, the French Declaration of the Rights of Men and the Citizen, the Bill of Rights of The United States of America, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of the Council of Europe, and finally, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.


Thereafter, there is a full and detailed presentation of the work of some very important personalities throughout history, who devoted their lives in trying to theoretically configure the perfect way of functioning of a democratic state. Extremely important works, with very interesting commentary, of John Locke, Voltaire, Charles-Louis de Secondat, mostly known as Baron de Montesquieu, David Hume, Thomas Paine, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Constant, Alexis de Tocqueville, John Stuart Mill, Maximilian Weber, J.A. Schumpeter, F.A. Hayek, Hannah Arendt, Isaiah Berlin, Raymond Aron, John Rawls, Maurice Duverger, Robert Nozick and finally F. Fukuyama, S. Huntington and A. Sen. Studying their work in a historical order, gives to the  reader a better insight of the road to Political Democracy that most of the western democracies enjoy in our times.


The book gathers all the important authors and their texts about political system and politics, government and governance, different systems of government and types of government, law and morality, social contract and political rights. There is a logical and historical cohesion of the documents, which enlightens and simplifies the actions that were taken in the past, in order to reach the development of the modern political system and democracy.


In general, we have a finer democratic state and political democracy when we seek for it and we seek for a democratic state and political democracy, when we know how they are defined. Consequently, when the elements of a democratic state and political democracy are well known by the citizens, citizens tend to seek for the improved version of the modern democratic state and political democracy. As sir Francis Bacon said, ipsa scientia potestas est, and we should never forget that this very book can be used as a valuable tool, as a reminder of the high importance of the Political Democracy, from the antiquity to our days. I do consider this book as a valuable tool for all libraries, all academic world, but also for every citizen interested in the evolution of political democracy, from antiquity to our time.

Thessaloniki 11 November 2013


Paroula Naskou Perraki

Professor of International Law

University of Macedonia

Thessaloniki, Greece