The Eighteenth Brumaire of Arnold Schwarzenegger

Replacing a governor whom they re-elected only a year before with Arnold Schwarzenegger must have given Californian voters an enormous--if guilty--pleasure. Some members of the opposition in Germany would dearly love to do the same to Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, though they have not (yet!) found a film star to replace him.

Several other European governments find themselves in a similar state of unpopularity not long after being elected. Beyond Europe this is true even for the recently acclaimed Brazilian President Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva, to say nothing of Mexican President Vicente Fox and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, the latter having called for a referendum to help arrest his sinking popularity.

Electoral success, it appears, fades fast nowadays. So should every country adopt a recall procedure to maintain the legitimacy of governments?

Absolutely not. Democracy, in the words of the philosopher Karl Popper, is about being able to remove those in power without violence; it is in this sense about trial and error. But leaders must be given the chance to govern. Indeed, they need a chance to make mistakes and to learn and recover from their errors, as long as their decisions do not affect the foundations of the democratic order itself. Trial and error implies the opportunity to err before we try again.