Democracy Without Democrats

The philosopher Karl Popper had ample reason to propose a precise definition of democracy. Democracy, he said, is a means to remove those in power without bloodshed. Popper's preferred method, of course, was the ballot box.

Popper's definition avoids theological disputes about the "rule of the people," and whether such a thing can actually exist. It also spares us the attempt to stick all kinds of possibly desirable objectives into the definition, like equality in social as well as technical terms, a general theory of the actual process of "democratisation," or even a set of civic virtues of participation.

But Popper's definition of democracy does not help when it comes to a question that has become topical in many parts of the world: what if those removed from power believe in democracy, whereas those who replace them do not? What in other words, if the "wrong" people are elected?

There is no shortage of examples. In Europe, parties of dubious democratic pedigree have done well in recent years: Jörg Haider in Austria, Christoph Blocher in Switzerland, Umberto Bossi in Italy, Jean-Marie LePen in France - the list is long. At best, the electoral victories of such groups make the formation of responsible governments difficult; at worst, they foreshadow actively antidemocratic movements capable of getting a majority by election.--