Democracies and Their Crises Reconsidered

in Democratic Theory
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  • 1 Humboldt University wolfgang.merkel@wzb.eu
  • 2 University of Canberra Jean-Paul.Gagnon@canberra.edu.au
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Editors’ introduction to the interview

Democracy, says Wolfgang Merkel, is not in as deep of an acute crisis as many today think it to be. An examination, for example, of OECD democracies over the last 50 years does not reveal democracy’s wholesale crisis but rather crises in certain sectors of democracy – ones that change over time as the state institutions affected by crises adapt to them and in some manner resolve them. Take, for instance, the improvements made in Western democracies to civil liberties, women in business and parliaments, gay rights, and the protection of minorities. These improvements happened in the last 50 years. Almost simultaneously, however, almost all established democracies developed a crisis with globalized capital that blackmails its governments with the threat of capital flight and a crisis with economic inequality which has resulted in approximately the poorest 1/3rd of most democratic societies dropping-out of each form of political participation. Merkel’s reconsideration of the crisis of democracy reveals that democracies can decline and improve at the same time because crises are sectoral.

Contributor Notes

Wolfgang Merkel is the director for the research unit “Democracy: Structures, Performance, Challenges” at the Social Science Research Centre Berlin (WZB); and professor of Political Science at the Humboldt University in Berlin. His research focuses on political regimes, democracy and democratization, parties and party systems, comparative public policy, and reform of the welfare state.

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