Associative Democracy

Associative Democracy

The conflict between liberal democratic capitalism and state socialism dominated political life for most of this century. Now the political arena is changing radically. The problem is whether we can develop political ideas to make sense of those changes and to guide political action. State socialism is finished as a credible political idea. But liberal democracy is almost moribund, too, something most celebrants of the collapse of communism have failed to notice. In fact the collapse of communism and the stagnation of liberalism are connected. Liberal democracy derived its most powerful legitimation from the threat of ideological dictatorships; whatever its limitations it allowed citizens to criticize and to change their government. Authoritarian regimes and the revival of religious fanaticism in the third world are too distant from us in the West to have the same effect. At the same time the Western public is more and more confused about what government can accomplish and whether voting makes any difference.

We cannot rest content with a stagnant liberalism and the absence of any strategy for reform. Liberal democracy is inadequate precisely because changing political circumstances are making its institutions less and less able to cope. Unless it is supplemented by other ideas, it will fail to adapt to a changing political world.

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