Democracy ‘no longer the only game in town’


“Democracy is no longer the only game in town,” says Harvard political scientist Yascha Mounk.

Mounk’s work first came to my attention this past summer, when he and Roberto Stefan Foa, of the University of Melbourne, published an article in the Journal of Democracy showing a decline in support for democracy in the West, Jonathan Rauch writes for The Atlantic:

The decline is alarming. In the U.S., the proportion of people saying it would be good or very good for the “Army to rule” rose from one in 16 in 1995 to one in six in 2014. Ominously, the trend was strongest among the young. When asked to rate on a scale of one to 10 how essential it was for them to live in a democracy, 75 percent of Americans born in the 1930s chose 10, but the proportion dropped with each succeeding decade, falling to only about 30 percent for people born in the 1980s.

Why? Mounk suspects the mutually reinforcing effects of three different but related social vectors, Rauch adds:

  • The first is economic anxiety. “In a lot of countries,” he says, “you’ve always had a very rapid increase in living standards from one generation to the next. That’s no longer the case in many countries in Europe and in North America.” Some of what always looked like unconditional support for democracy may actually have been conditioned on rising prosperity.
  • The second vector is ethnic and racial anxiety: historically dominant groups’ perception (frequently accurate) that they are losing majority standing and the cultural status that goes with it.
  • The third vector, Mounk believes, is growing economic inequality between urban centers and rural hinterlands.


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