No room for complacency on populist challenge to liberal democracy


In a compelling lecture on “the populist challenge to liberal democracy,” Brookings Institution scholar William A. Galston talked about the need to “forget about economic aggregates and focus on inclusive growth” and to make democratic institutions work because “gridlock frustrates ordinary citizens,” the Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt writes.

“Liberal democracy is fragile, constantly threatened, always in need of repair,” said Galston, (left), delivering the 14th annual Seymour Martin Lipset Lecture on Democracy in the World at the Canadian Embassy [above, co-sponsored by the National Endowment for Democracy]. “But liberal democracy is also strong, because, to a greater extent than any other political form, it harbors the power of self-correction.”

The basic institutions and principles of liberal democracy are under assault, Galston and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol contend in a recently-issued joint statement.

“Many of us who are defenders of this distinctive form of self-government have tended to take for granted widespread agreement on these principles; we have had confidence in the strength of these institutions. This is a complacency we can no longer afford,” they contend.

When surveying democracy’s present travails, it is worth remembering that democracy invariably disappoints, notes Christopher Hobson, the author ofThe Rise of Democracy: Revolution, War and Transformations in International Politics since 1776.” There is always a gap between the ideal of democracy — “government of the people, by the people, for the people” as U.S. President Abraham Lincoln memorably put it — and what that actually means when put into practice in large, complex societies, he writes for Project Syndicate.

“Even in this inevitably incomplete manner, what distinguishes democracy is that it is a thoroughly human form of government. It is consistently frustrating, inconsistent and flawed, just as humans are,” Hobson adds. RTWT

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