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Is democracy dying?

November 11, 2019 November 2019 No Comments

In his most recent book How Democracy Ends Cambridge politics professor David Runcimargues that democracy is alive, if not altogether well.

Trump, Brexit and the creeping pall of fascism that’s descended on large swathes of Europe and America are not symptoms of democracy’s death, but a crisis — a midlife crisis, according to Runciman.

The established democracies are old, tired and groaning with the existential angst of middle age. This doesn’t mean the crisis faced by democracies isn’t serious, it is, but it’s probably not the end.

“When a miserable middle-aged man buys a motorbike on impulse, it can be dangerous. If he’s really unlucky it all ends in a fireball,” Runciman writes. “American democracy is in middle age. Donald Trump is its motorcycle”.

Trump, he tells me, is not the symbol of democracy’s end, but rather evidence of the electorate’s enduring faith in democratic institutions.

 “I do feel that part of the reason people voted for Trump was not because they believed him when he said America was broken but because they didn’t believe him.

“They actually believe that American democracy and politics was robust enough that they could voice their anger, their deep frustration, their desire for something radically new without having to face the consequences of the risk of the collapse of democracy”.

The tired, broken electorate faced with a known and unknown future took a gamble on something new. It bought a motorcycleA better society to look at would be Japan. It’s old, it’s rich, and it doesn’t think the solution to demographic decline is immigration. The median age in Japan is 47 and the birth rate is just 1.46. Japan is a shrinking, but prosperous society.

“It’s very peaceful, it’s been through an economic crisis dating back 30 years that it never resolved but it’s never broken the system either — democracy carries on and elections carry on. It’s got that kind of stuck, Groundhog Day quality to it”.

A democracy of the future, a late-middle age democracy, needs to park the motorcycle, stop looking back and embrace the challenge of the new. And this could mean democracy changing into something that looks materially different. Democracy won’t break, snap or collapse Runciman says, but it might fragment – indeed it increasingly is.

 “Democracy should create results for people and respect people, it could be a bright future, but we’ll have to survive the looming motorcycle accident first.

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