Is there a crisis of European democracy? The political condition of our time

by Peter Wagner

21 Feb 2020
Journal of the British Academy
10 (pp. 53-61)

Abstract: Linking historical comparison to conceptual reflection, this article critically discusses the widespread thesis that we are experiencing a profound crisis of European democracy today. One certainly observes rising illiberalism, authoritarianism and what is called populism in Europe and elsewhere. But looking only half a century backwards, there were dictatorships in the South of Europe, there was widespread elite understanding for the coup d’état in Chile, and the commitment to democracy as the only legitimate form of government was much less diffused than today. Having placed current democracy in context, it becomes clear that the current diagnosis of crisis is unclear about its focus. Democracy could be in crisis because there is no space for the will of the people to be expressed, because the will of the people is not translated into government policies, or because the communication between citizens is inadequate for will formation. Without clarifying in which of these senses current democracy is deficient, it will not be possible to arrive at a fruitful understanding of the state of current democracy.

Keywords: Authoritarianism, citizen disaffection, civic activism, democratisation, political communication.

Article posted to Journal of the British Academy, volume 8, supplementary issue 1 (A Mediterranean Perspective on European Union and Disunion).

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