Crisis and transition, but not decline
Title: Crisis and transition, but not decline
Author: SCHMITTER, Philippe C.
Citation: Journal of democracy, 2015, Vol. 26, No. 1, pp. 32-44
ISSN: 1086-3214; 1045-5736
There seems to be an overwhelming consensus among scholars and politicians that democracy as a practice is in decline. An 18 August 2014 Google search for decline of democracy yielded more than 55.5 million results; Google Scholar, which searches only academic literature, still produced a hefty 434,000 hits. At the same time, however, it is widely accepted that the desire for democracy as an ideal—that is, self-rule by citizens possessing equal rights and having equal influence over the choice of leaders and the conduct of public affairs—has never been greater or more broadly distributed. This gap between what is promised and what is delivered has been an omnipresent feature of those long-established regimes that I have called “really existing democracies,” and it has been reproduced in newly established democracies as well. It is the source of most of the historical struggles that have periodically led to the reform of democratic institutions. A widening of this gap between the real and the ideal characterizes the present crisis—hence the growing pressure not to dismantle or destroy democracy as such, but rather to change the way in which it is being practiced. No one seems to believe that either really existing democracies or newer democracies that have passed some threshold of consolidation will in the foreseeable future regress to their status quo ante. Moreover, there is simply no plausible alternative in sight, save for a few models (for example, Chinese meritocracy, Russian neo-Czarism, Arab monarchy, or Islamic theocracy) that are unlikely to appeal far beyond their borders. In other words (to paraphrase a line in Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard), democracy will definitely survive, but only by changing. What these changes will be, however, is by no means clear.
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