Rescuing Democracy in the Age of the Internet

Ethics & International Affairs, Volume 29.3 (Fall 2015)

September 10, 2015

Occupy Wall Street. CREDIT: Darwin Yamamoto (CC)

By David Runciman

Democracy Disfigured: Opinion, Truth, and the People, Nadia Urbinati (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2014), 320 pp., $39.95 cloth.

Disruptive Power: The Crisis of the State in the Digital Age, Taylor Owen (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 264 pp., $27.95 cloth.

Why Democracy Is Oppositional, John Medearis (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2015), 272 pp., $39.95 cloth.

Throughout almost the entire history of democracy—from pre-Socratic Greece up to the second half of the 20th century—its champions faced little difficulty in identifying its enemies. Critics of democracy consistently lined up to attack it on ideological and philosophical grounds. The litany of complaints was familiar: Democracy is an ignorant, unreliable, unstable form of rule; putting power in the hands of the people entrusts decision-making to those who are incapable of making the right decisions, either because of their natural incapacity or because social arrangements have denuded them of their ability to know what they are doing; democratic politicians pander to the masses, and the masses reward them for it; democracies choose short-term gratification over long-term solutions and eventually pay the price. These charges were invariably accompanied by the promise of something better, the assumption being that almost any alternative regime would be an improvement on the inadequacies of democracy.

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