A review and application of Degenerations of Democracy, by Craig Calhoun, Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar, and Charles Taylor (hereafter, CGT); Liberalism and Its Discontents, by Francis Fukuyama; and How Democracies Live, by Stein Ringen. A strengthened liberal democratic culture is essential for the health and vitality of democracy. This culture is made up of three components: a cluster of liberal values (rule of law, freedom, equality, and reason), a democratic governing system grounded in popular sovereignty, and a collective experience of shared respect for liberal values and democratic institutions. Has this culture lost its strength? Is the collective experience and belief in democratic legitimacy disappearing? Are liberal values increasingly contested? All of the theorists under review address these questions. And for all, the answer is “yes, but….” They make strikingly similar arguments about the sources of this culture’s strength, the causes of its current weakness, and how it can be strengthened. The general thrust of these books is this: a strong liberal democracy rests on three cultural foundations: the strength of social bonds, the level of deliberative civil discourse, and the level of economic equality. The main challenge to this threefold foundation’s strength is neoliberalism, which all authors agree has led to liberal democracy’s decline. I draw on this argument as a guide to assess the strength of liberal democracy in a small population living in rural Alpine County, California. I find that although it is relatively small and isolated, the drivers of democratic decline have found their way into this tiny community. Some aspects of liberal democratic culture have remained strong (voter turnout and volunteerism are high, and many citizens serve in elected office and on government committees); others, however, have weak roots that were never cultivated and continue to weaken further (equality, inclusion, open debate). Finally, I suggest that to strengthen liberal democracy, citizens must participate in it and leaders must work for the good of the entire community, not just the few.
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Review Article| March 09 2023
Democracy for the Few
Collections: Review Symposium on Democracy
Collections: Section: Culture, Values, and Identities
University of California Berkeley, Berkeley CA, USA
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Global Perspectives (2023) 4 (1): 70346.
December 06 2022
December 18 2022
Beverly Crawford; Democracy for the Few. Global Perspectives 6 January 2023; 4 (1): 70346. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gp.2023.70346
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