Tag: Democracy

Walter Lippmann’s critique of democracy revisited

Walter Lippmann’s Public Opinion, published in 1922, is the most persuasive critique of democracy I’ve ever read. Shortly after it was published, John Dewey, the great defender of democracy and the most important American philosopher of the era, called Lippmann’s book “the most effective indictment of democracy as currently conceived.”

Lippmann poses a straightforward question: can citizens achieve a basic knowledge of public affairs and then make reasonable choices about what to do? His answer is no, and the whole point of the book is to expose the gap between what we say democracy is and what we know about how human beings actually behave.

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20 of America’s top political scientists gathered to discuss our democracy. They’re scared.

Is American democracy in decline? Should we be worried?

On October 6, some of America’s top political scientists gathered at Yale University to answer these questions. And nearly everyone agreed: American democracy is eroding on multiple fronts — socially, culturally, and economically.

The scholars pointed to breakdowns in social cohesion (meaning citizens are more fragmented than ever), the rise of tribalism, the erosion of democratic norms such as a commitment to rule of law, and a loss of faith in the electoral and economic systems as clear signs of democratic erosion.

No one believed the end is nigh, or that it’s too late to solve America’s many problems. Scholars said that America’s institutions are where democracy has proven most resilient. So far at least, our system of checks and balances is working — the courts are checking the executive branch, the press remains free and vibrant, and Congress is (mostly) fulfilling its role as an equal branch.

But there was a sense that the alarm bells are ringing.

Yascha Mounk, a lecturer in government at Harvard University, summed it up well: “If current trends continue for another 20 or 30 years, democracy will be toast.”

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