How stable are democracies? ‘Warning signs are flashing red’

Amanda Taub writes: Yascha Mounk is used to being the most pessimistic person in the room. Mr. Mounk, a lecturer in government at Harvard, has spent the past few years challenging one of the bedrock assumptions of Western politics: that once a country becomes a liberal democracy, it will stay that way.

His research suggests something quite different: that liberal democracies around the world may be at serious risk of decline.

Mr. Mounk’s interest in the topic began rather unusually. In 2014, he published a book, “Stranger in My Own Country.” It started as a memoir of his experiences growing up as a Jew in Germany, but became a broader investigation of how contemporary European nations were struggling to construct new, multicultural national identities.

He concluded that the effort was not going very well. A populist backlash was rising. But was that just a new kind of politics, or a symptom of something deeper?

To answer that question, Mr. Mounk teamed up with Roberto Stefan Foa, a political scientist at the University of Melbourne in Australia. They have since gathered and crunched data on the strength of liberal democracies.

Their conclusion, to be published in the January issue of the Journal of Democracy, is that democracies are not as secure as people may think. Right now, Mr. Mounk said in an interview, “the warning signs are flashing red.” [Continue reading…]

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1 thought on “How stable are democracies? ‘Warning signs are flashing red’

  1. hquain

    This comes across as the academic-statistical version of the “It’s 1933!” story. I’d suggest that what we need to look for in the US are the already-well-tolerated aspects of authoritarian control that are embedded and functioning in the system.

    First and foremost, the US has an entrenched, stable electoral apparatus that its government rests on. It is not now, nor ever was, a ‘democracy’, as we are reminded endlessly in these discussions by eager-beaver rightists. A lot of US politics is devoted to control of the electoral system; there is no reason to imagine shutting it down. Voter suppression, gerrymandering, the mere inconvenience of voting in many areas — these have worked beautifully. The president is elected by gaining the votes of approximately 1/4 of the voting age population. We have one party rule in 2/3 of the states. The Federal government is now entirely controlled by that one party, which is trying to devolve as much power onto the states as possible. Why replace a system that you have tuned to near perfection?

    Second, significant sectors of the population are already under what amounts to authoritarian control. As we learned from Ferguson and aftermath, the police serve as a kind of occupying army in those zones. The Occupy movement was wiped out by paramilitary policing in a matter of a couple of weeks. There will be no problem ramping these forces up to meet foreseeable internal crises.

    In short, it looks like the US can continue within its institutional shell, becoming ever more repressive, ever more controlled by a plutocratic+rightist faction, without serious modifications that would be read as ‘collapse’ of ‘democracy’. We have an excellent model for this right before our eyes in Trump’s cabinet.

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