The Weekend Read
Is Democracy Over?

We are witnessing a crisis of democracy around the world, in the sense that both established and newer democracies are finding their populations dissatisfied. But that doesn’t mean we should write democracy off completely either.

Published on: May 17, 2014
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  • Andrew Allison

    Populations are dissatisfied because representative democracy is over., a lengthy but worth-the-time read, illustrates this as it applies to the EU.

  • Pete

    The average person today is incapable of being a truly responsible, voting citizen.

    It’s like Churchill said: The best argument against democracy is a five minute conservation with the average citizen.”

    And that was said back then. Imagine if he meet the boobs we have voting today. No wonder the Democrat Party wants easy voting.

    • Andrew Allison

      He also said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Unhappily, all forms of government are subject to the Baron Acton’s dictum that, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

  • ShadrachSmith

    The next obvious step is the technologically enhanced will form an oligarchy to steward over the rest of us meat popsicles. It was never more important to encourage your grandchildren to score in the 99th %tile in math. The rest may have limited futures.

  • Corlyss

    The ever perceptive Robert Kaplan was a skeptic almost 20 years ago:
    The elements of mature democracy embody the aspirations of humans no matter where they are located. That’s why they keep trying to come to the West, because they are confident they will find them here. The fact that people are ill-equipped to exercise their responsibilities under democracy is no impugning of democracy as a governmental scheme. What most people fail to grasp is that “democracy” doesn’t start with elections and self-government; it is achieved after a lot of other conditions prevail, and so far the non-Western nations, either because they were cobbled together from old colonial maps or because the people are not temperamentally advanced enough to admit opinions other than their own is just a fact about their conditions, and not a knock on the system.

    • Andrew Allison

      I’m a great admirer of Kaplan, but in this case he failed to grasp that what he was seeing was not a mature democracy. As illustrated by our current government and those of Europe, a mature democracy is far from democratic.

  • Anthony

    Emotionally and faithfully committed though one may be to democracy, which on ideological grounds might be thought desirable, operationally it is as impossible as perpetual motion. For democracy is something that belongs to the psyche, to group ( inter-nation) interactions, not to outward forms. As an avalanche of evidence shows (as cited by Meaney and Mounk), people (nations) in general are not the least bit democratic at heart. Meaney and Mounk provide incisive analysis on liberal democracy since 1688 and its vaious innovations, influences, zeitgeist, and potential denouement. The contention that the crisis of democracy today is of a different order (no longer question of soi – disant…) compels a fresh look at what regime called democracy will entail as we move on: “Democracy, as we know it in the modern world, is based on a peculiar compromise. The word to which we pay such homage means the rule of the people….While the leaders and citizens of liberal democracies have come to believe that their system naturally produces better outcomes than other arrangements…it does not guarantee good political or economic outcomes….If we want to venture a guess about the future of democracy, we have to ask: in what respect has the past stability and tenability of the democratic project depended on factors that no longer obtain?”

    • Andrew Allison

      “As an avalanche of evidence shows (some cited by Meaney and Mounk), people (nations) in general are not the least bit democratic at heart.” sums it up pretty well. Democracy, like all other forms of government, is a terminal disease but, to paraphrase Churchill, it has demonstrated greater longevity than the any of the alternatives.

  • America rules the world, and America is ruled by Jewish oligarchs. Jews control the media, finance, academia, government, foreign policy.

    And because of the holy Holocaust cult, we cannot criticize Jewish power. Jews have the most power but play the biggest victims. Very dangerous for all of us.

  • tolar cav

    Stella Khorosheva , spokesman for the “people’s mayor” Sloviansk Vyacheslav Ponomarev reported Ukranian Nazigvardiey shooting 10 military who wanted to defect to the people’s militias (rebels).

    She said the following: ” Ten people ( number of Ukrainian military) wanted to cross over to our side , but the Ukrainian Nazi guard, shot all off them .”

    At night there were reports of fighting in the rebellious city surroundings .

    See the original material militia announced the execution of 10 soldiers who wanted to go over to the DNR – Tsenzury.Net – information portal

  • S.C. Schwarz

    The key idea of the US, and before us Great Britain, is not democracy but the idea of the limited state. Democracy, i.e. popular election of some key officials, is an important part of limiting the state, but so are the concepts of rule of law, independent judiciary, separation of powers, and all those other forgotten ideas we learned in high school social studies.

    Leftists such as the authors you mention are not, of course, interested in limiting the state thinking, perhaps correctly, that they, or their friends, will be in charge when all this constitutional nonsense can be blown away. Oh the good they could do, they imagine, if only they were really in charge.

    God help us if they ever are.

  • charlesrwilliams

    The enemy of democracy is the welfare state. It is too complicated to be governed by the people because people have more important things to do than politics. Democracy disappears when a people choose bread and circuses provided by an all powerful state over the challenges and risks of managing their own affairs. A ruling class emerges to manage the welfare state and it will not accept the will of the people when it conflicts with its own interests. The people want the immigration laws enforced and the ruling class will not enforce the law. The people want a colorblind public square and the ruling class mandates racial quotas. The people are divided on same-sex “marriage,” and public discussion must be suppressed.

    • Andrew Allison

      I beg to differ. The enemy of democracy is not the welfare state but, as de Tocqueville wrote, the politicians who buy votes with welfare and those who, understandably reelect them. It is characteristic of all forms of government that a ruling class emerges which regards the will of the people as irrelevant. As noted below a very good exposition of this to be found at

  • Anthony

    A related observation: “the democratic system thus comes full circle and in the United States presents a parody of itself on the governmental level. As a consequence the entire land is officially plunged into Madison Avenue nonsense. The system, it turns out, has been infiltrated and subverted by boobocrats. While institutional inadequacy is involved it is by no means the whole story. Although many Americans above age twenty-five are inadequately educated and schooled, nobody at all is twisting their arms to make them remain that way. Where the interests of the broad public lie may be….”

  • qet

    Democracy is subject an iron law that awaits expression by a Newton of political science. That law is that there is a limit to the size of a population that may be effectively governed by either democracy straight up or representative democracy of the types apotheosized in our public school civics classes, the types that are constantly being lamented as lost to us. I don’t know what that number is, but it is far, far below 300 million.

    Technology makes no difference. Read carefully the whinging, mostly out of the left-liberal media, about how a small cabal of evil Republicans led by the nefarious Koch Bros. is “undermining our democracy” and you will discover a vision of democracy-as-survey, the political will of the people as embodied in each of the two dozen surveys released every week, week after week, by various left-aligned institutions. We constantly hear: “a majority of the American people favor” every tax and regulatory policy urged by the vanguard of the Left. We hear that because a greater absolute number of voters voted for Democratic Party candidates in the last election, the persistence of a GOP House majority, which refuses to enact the policies the surveys show are desired by a “majority” of the people, is Q.E.D. proof that the Republicans are subverting “our democracy.” By such lights, proper representative democratic governance consists not in elections but in opinion polls.

    300 million people cannot self-govern according to any plausible theory or definition of democracy, no matter what technology is available, and yet there are people who still believe that progress consists in breaking down national barriers and further amalgamating the world’s population into ever larger governance units.
    The Founders saw all of this and designed an order that relied on smaller governance units to carry out most of the work that we associate with the word “governance,” leaving only a handful of matters to be the responsibility of the central government. The irony is that this order was ruined by the very elements–the Southern states–who most loudly and consistently demand that we respect it. As a Southerner myself I am painfully aware of this irony. Regardless of where the fault lies, the transformation of the entire United States into a single governance unit via expansive interpretation of the 14th amendment is what has led to all of the contradictions with the ideal of democracy of modern US political life.

  • Loader2000

    Meaney and Mounk suffer from kind of cynisism that afflicts those who were hyper (naively) idealistic and disappointed. They see democracy not living up to their expectations (and what they perceive as other’s expectations) and they believe the democratic experiment is failing.

    The truth is, democracy was never designed to produce optimal governance. It was simply designed to keep the worst, most destructive actors and actions out of the game and give citizens a chance to change things they feel very strongly about.

    Americans, by and large, get what they want, subject to the constraints of a global economy. When American’s found out that president Bush was tapping the phones of other American’s without a warrant, citizen outrage put a stop to it (never would have happened in a dictatorship). When legislators were intent on bending to the will of certain corporations and ending internet freedom as we know it, citizen outrage put a stop to it (never would have happened in a dictatorship). There are always law makers willing and able to channel and take advantage of citizen outrage. When some people see law makers doing things they don’t agree with, and feel powerless to stop, the truth is, more often than not, there simply is not a whole lot of real enthusiasm in the population to put a stop to it. If there was, people would be taking to the streets, signing petitions and pushing forward candidates (much like the Tea Party did in a very short time) and scaring snot out of local incumbent politicians. Occupy Wall street was never a phenomena that had the strong support (strong means will to take action over) of most people in the US and while most people want banks better regulated, at the end of the day, they are more interested in getting a higher return on their retirement investments or simply aren’t that enthusiastic about the issue to really take to the streets and write to their politicians.

    Apathy isn’t the end of democracy, apathy is democracy in the sense that if most people don’t’ really care, than whatever small, organized subset of the population that really cares (like unions, corporations, NRA) will have a disproportionate influence. In other words, modern democracy takes into consideration both the number of people and their enthusiasm in its calculous. If Meaney and Mounk mourn that fact, well, that it is the way democracy has always operated so I’m not sure what ‘end’ they are referring to.

  • One could argue that the problem is not “democracy” but the utter lack of true representation today. The idea that one representative in America can actually represent over 700,000 citizens is absurd on its face, and is why special interests on both sides can drive government. A representative democratic republic under the rule of law simply must be smaller than the mega-states we have today. The internet and globaliztion can – and probably will – help to split these megastates as no longer are they required to provide – indeed, they hinder – the delivery of goods and services, government and otherwise. They are too big, too expensive, too unrepresentative and too undemocratic. As the internet continues its penetration into society and, ultimately into governing philosophy, expect many more traditional States to dissolve to better support the aspirations of freedom and liberty of their citizens.

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