John Keane (political theorist)

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John Keane, 2015

Born in southern Australia, John Keane is Professor of Politics at the University of Sydney[1] and at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin[2] (WZB). He first studied Politics, Government and History at the University of Adelaide, winning the Tinline Prize for a First Class Honours with Highest Distinction (1971). He won a Commonwealth Fellowship to study at the University of Toronto, where in the fields of philosophy and political economy he was awarded a doctorate and mentored and supervised by C.B. Macpherson. He later held a post-doctoral fellowship at King’s College, at the University of Cambridge, where he worked closely with Anthony Giddens, Quentin Skinner and other leading scholars.

John Keane is renowned globally for his creative thinking about democracy.[3] Well before the European revolutions of 1989, John Keane first came to public prominence as a theorist and defender of ‘civil society’ and the democratic opposition in central-eastern Europe. Throughout the 1980s, he contributed extensively to the programme of ‘flying university’ apartment seminars in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. His political and scholarly writing during that period was published under the pen name Erica Blair.[citation needed][4] His Times Literary Supplement series of 18th-century-style dialogues with prominent underground human rights figures such as Adam Michnik and György Konrád was read widely, and translated into many languages. He arranged and edited Vaclav Havel’s first book in English, The Power of the Powerless[5] (1985). In the spring of 1989, just before the revolutions that shook central-eastern Europe, he founded the world’s first democracy research institute, the London-based Centre for the Study of Democracy[6] (CSD). During the past decade, he founded and directed the Sydney Democracy Network[7] (SDN). He has contributed to The New York Times, Al Jazeera, the Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, Harper's, the South China Morning Post and The Huffington Post.

During his many years in Britain, the Times of London described him as 'one of the world's leading political thinkers and writers.[8] El País (Madrid) has ranked him as 'among the world's leading analysts of political systems'[9] (2018). The Australian Broadcasting Commission called him 'one of the great intellectual exports from Australia.'[10] His work has been translated into approximately 35 languages. During the period 2014-2019, his experimental online column "Democracy Field Notes"[11] attracted nearly a million readers in the London, Cambridge- and Melbourne-based The Conversation. Among his best-known books are the prize-winning, best selling Tom Paine: A political life[12] (1995), Violence and Democracy[13](2004), Democracy and Media Decadence[14] (2013) and a full-scale history of democracy, The Life and Death of Democracy[15] (2009). Forthcoming in Arabic, it has been published in Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese (European and Brazilian) and Korean; it was short-listed for the Prime Minister's Literary Award (2012) while the Japanese translation (2014) was ranked in the top three non-fiction books[16] of that year published in Japan. His most recent books are When Trees Fall, Monkeys Scatter[17] (2017); Power and Humility: the Future of Monitory Democracy[18] (2018); and The New Despotism[19] (2020). He was recently nominated for the 2021 Balzan Prize[20] and the Holberg Prize[21] for outstanding global contributions to the human sciences.

In 2021 Keane published the book To Kill a Democracy: India's Passage to Despotism co-authored by Debasish Roy Chowdhury.[22][23]


  1. ^ "Staff Profile". The University of Sydney. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  2. ^ "Prof. John Keane". Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  3. ^ "John Keane". Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  4. ^ Blair, Erica (19–25 February 1988). "Towards a Civil Society: Hopes for Polish Society". The Times Literary Supplement. 188: 198–99.
  5. ^ Keane, Vaclav Havel John (1 January 1985). The Power of the Powerless: Citizens Against the State in Central Eastern Europe by Vaclav Havel John Keane(1985-06-26). Routledge.
  6. ^ "Centre for the Study of Democracy | University of Westminster, London". Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  7. ^ "Sydney Democracy Network".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  8. ^ "John Keane". Q+A. 20 December 2018. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  9. ^ Fariza, Ignacio (27 February 2019). "Entrevista | John Keane: "Hay una cierta moda en hablar de crisis de la democracia"". El País (in Spanish). ISSN 1134-6582. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  10. ^ Keane, John. "Bob Brown and the media: 'I'll take them on ... they've crossed the line'". The Conversation. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  11. ^ "Democracy field notes". Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  12. ^ Keane, John (2003). Tom Paine : a political life (1st American ed.). New York: Grove Press. ISBN 0-8021-3964-7. OCLC 50447898.
  13. ^ Keane, John (2004). Violence and democracy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-511-21438-3. OCLC 560233632.
  14. ^ Keane, John (2013). Democracy and Media Decadence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/cbo9781107300767. ISBN 978-1-107-04177-6.
  15. ^ Keane, John (2009). The life and death of democracy. London: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-7432-3192-3. OCLC 225432107.
  16. ^ "John Keane". The Conversation. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  17. ^ Keane, John (21 February 2017). When Trees Fall, Monkeys Scatter. WORLD SCIENTIFIC (EUROPE). doi:10.1142/q0104. ISBN 978-1-78634-359-8.
  18. ^ Keane, John (2018). Power and Humility: The Future of Monitory Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-108-42522-3.
  19. ^ Keane, John (2020). The new despotism. Cambridge, MA. ISBN 978-0-674-24671-3. OCLC 1148884831.
  20. ^ "FASS News - Issue 137 - 13 February 2020". Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  21. ^ "About the Holberg Prize | Holbergprisen". (in Norwegian Bokmål). Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  22. ^ Bose, Mihir. "An indictment of India's descent towards despotism". The Irish Times. Retrieved 21 December 2021.
  23. ^ "To Kill a Democracy: India's Passage to Despotism". 20 April 2021. Retrieved 21 December 2021.

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