Democracy in Distress

PARIS – Is democratic time too slow to respond to crises, and too short to plan for the long term?

At a time of deepening economic and social crisis in many of the world’s rich democracies, that question is highly relevant. In Italy, for example, Prime Minister Mario Monti has the necessary and legitimate ambition to carry out comprehensive reform. He is both competent and honest, but faces a quasi-structural impediment: whereas leaders once had three years to convince voters of their policies’ benefits, they now have three hours to convince global financial markets to back their approach.

Caught between Italian legislators who, deep down, do not understand that change and markets in quest of near-immediate certainties, can Monti transcend his natural prudence and act with sufficient clarity and decisiveness?

In the United States, too, the political system is becoming increasingly dysfunctional. The political philosopher Francis Fukuyama goes so far as to say that “vetocracy” could triumph over democracy, regardless of who wins the 2012 presidential election. The separation of powers, a principle established by the US founders under the influence of philosophers such as Montesquieu, is leading today to near-paralysis.