The book re-examines the meaning and evolution of democracy, and the popular backlash confronting contemporary democracies. The authors argue that the rising popular dissent, which has been seized upon by populist parties, stems from a fundamental misunderstanding about the essence of democracy. The authors begin by pointing out that all democracies are a result of a historical ‘bricolage’, in which various components have been integrated into political systems to adapt to the exigencies of the time. With the passage of time, these ad-hoc components have become mainstays in many democratic systems, despite being anti-democratic in the true sense of the word. As a result, liberalism is at stake. Many political systems are considered ‘undemocratic’ as they tend to display illiberal traits. However, one should remember that the reforms inspired by liberalism – from the system of checks and balances to independent authorities and constitutional courts – were principally motivated by the aim to limit the excesses of the ‘will of the people’. Today, democracies are marked by periodic crises, weakening representative institutions, and the usurpation of the ‘political’ by non-political institutions. Governance has replaced governments, and for most citizens, elections do not matter; or at least it seems that a growing number of citizens are displaying feelings of apathy or resentment towards the political process. Populism is a radical by-product of visceral popular anger which has not found the appropriate channels to convey its political demands and aspirations for change.
Yves Mény is Professor Emeritus and former President of the European University Institute in Florence.
Jan Kermer is a PhD student at LUISS Guido Carli University.