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by Brian Schrader

The People vs. Democracy

Posted on Sat, 19 May 2018 at 01:46 PM

I just finished Yascha Mounk's excellent book The People vs. Democracy. In it Yascha talks about how the two main parts of a Liberal Democracy are now at odds with each other, not working together.

  • A democracy is a set of binding electoral institutions that effectively translate popular views into public policy.
  • Liberal institutions effectively protect the rule of law and guarantee individual rights such as freedom of speech, worship, press, and association to all citizens (including ethnic and religious minorities).
  • A liberal democracy is simply a political system that is both liberal and democratic — one that both protects individual rights and translates popular views into public policy.

...Democracies can be illiberal...[especially] where most people favor subordinating independent institutions...or curtailing the rights of minorities they dislike. Conversely, liberal régimes can be undemocratic, despite having regular competitive elections.

I've been thinking a lot about that distinction lately. Democracy is kind of a holy word in our society, a thing that cannot be bad, but as Yascha points out, the original democracy in Athens was known for executing writers and philosophers, and not extending suffrage past its male elites. It's the combination of Enlightenment era liberalism and democracy that gives us the systems we see around us today. Yascha's main point is that this combination seems to be falling apart all over the world as systems either become less democratic, or less liberal, or both at the same time.

Yascha also dives into the possible causes of this split, and how to fix it; from social media to housing prices. It's a fascinating read, and it really changed the way I think about today's political climate for the better. I haven't torn through a book that quickly in a long time.

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