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Overcoming Our Crisis of Confidence in Democracy

The Democratic Distemper,” by Morris P. Fiorina

I have been tasked to write on governance in the contemporary era, a time when many knowledgeable commentators believe that democracies across the western world are performing poorly in the face of new challenges arising from demographic and technological change. Commentary on the state of contemporary liberal democracy clearly tends toward the pessimistic:

The vague and persistent feeling that democracies have become ungovernable has been growing steadily in western Europe. The case of Britain has become the most dramatic example of this malaise . . .

Western Europe has only 20 or 30 more years of democracy left in it; after that it will slide engineless and rudderless, under the surrounding sea of dictatorship . . .

Given the relative decline in its military, economic and political influence, the United States is more likely to face serious military or diplomatic reversal during the coming years than at any previous time in its history. If this does occur, it could pose a traumatic shock to American democracy.

Why do some commentators sound such discouraging notes?

The image which recurs in these and other statements is one of the disintegration of civil order, the breakdown of social discipline, the debility of leaders, and the alienation of citizens.

Fake news! The preceding statements are not contemporary. They are contained in a report to the Trilateral Commission, entitled The Crisis of Democracy. That report was published in 1975.

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