In this book Fred Dallmayr lays the groundwork for a new understanding of democracy. He argues that democracy is not a stable system anchored in a manifest authority (like monarchy), but is sustained by the recessed and purely potential rule of the "people". Hence, democracy has to constantly reinvent itself, resembling theologically a creatio continua. Like one of Calder's mobiles, democracy for him involves three basic elements that must be balanced constantly: the people, political leaders, and policy goals. Where this balance is disrupted, democracy derails into populism, Bonapartism, or messianism. Given this need for balance, democratic politics is basically a "relational praxis."
In our globalizing age, democracy cannot be confined domestically. Dallmayr rejects the idea that it can be autocratically imposed abroad through forced regime change, or that the dominant Western model can simply be transferred elsewhere. In this respect, he challenges the equation of democracy with the pursuit of individual or collective self-interest, insisting that other, more ethical conceptions are possible and that different societies should nurture democracy with their own cultural resources. Providing examples, he discusses efforts to build democracy in the Middle East, China, and India (respectively with Islamic, Confucian and Hindu resources). In the end, Dallmayr's hope is for a "democracy to come", that is, a cosmopolitan community governed not by hegemonic force but by the spirit of equality and mutual respect.