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What’s Behind the Crisis of Democracy?

In democracies around the world, voters increasingly feel as though most of the major choices affecting their lives have already been decided through existing legal and international frameworks. But while rules-based technocracy – and corporatism before it – may have been well-suited to monolithic forms of identity, it no longer suffices.

PRINCETON – There is no longer any denying that democracy is at risk worldwide. Many people doubt that democracy is working for them, or that it is working properly at all. Elections don’t seem to yield real-world results, other than to deepen existing political and social fissures. The crisis of democracy is largely a crisis of representation – or, to be more precise, an absence of representation.

Recent elections in Spain and Israel, for example, have been inconclusive and frustrating. And the United States, the world’s longstanding bastion of democracy, is in the midst of a constitutional crisis over a president who was elected by a minority of voters, and who has since made a mockery of democratic norms and the rule of law.

Meanwhile, in Britain, which will hold a general election on December 12, the two major parties and their respective leaders have become increasingly unattractive; but the only alternative – the Liberal Democrats – has struggled to fill the void. Only regional parties – the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru in Wales, and the Democratic Unionists in Northern Ireland – are commanding any credibility. And in Germany, an apparently exhausted “grand coalition” has become a source of growing disillusion.