The Irish Times view: Democracy in retreat

The world in 2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during an annual end-of-year news conference in Moscow. File photograph: Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during an annual end-of-year news conference in Moscow. File photograph: Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters

Democracy is suffering a mid-life crisis – its best days are behind it, its future uncertain, the academic David Runciman argues in his recent book, How Democracy Ends. Such pessimism is widespread these days. Together, the misrule of Donald Trump, the rise of the populist right in Europe, the consolidation of power around authoritarian strongmen and the growing threat to liberal democracy from vastly powerful tech firms paint a picture of a world where the postwar political order is in flux, and where a once unthinkable question seems entirely valid: has democracy had its day?

It’s clear that democracy is going through its biggest crisis since the 1930s. The rapid global spread of the concept, a consistent trend over the past 70 years, has stalled since the financial crisis. That retreat was clearer than ever in 2018. In the United States, whose self-image has long been closely bound to its liberal democratic ethos, President Donald Trump continued his assault on the rule of law and minority rights, even if independent institutions by and large held firm.

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