The presiding cliché of this crisis has been Churchill’s famous line: democracy is the worst system of government apart from all the others that have been tried. ...It’s a cliché because it’s true. But how much help is it to know this? It partly depends on why we think it’s true. The conventional explanation for the superiority of democracy to the alternatives is that democracies hold regular elections. Democracies can get rid of their bad leaders whereas autocracies get stuck with theirs, since autocrats are notoriously bad at knowing when their time is up. ...
Still, elections can’t be the whole story. To start with, democracies are perfectly capable of replacing bad leaders with even worse ones. ... If elections are not the answer, then what explains the ability of the world’s leading democracies to survive crises, something which has been demonstrated time and again over the last century? My best guess is that their crucial advantage lies in being more politically flexible than the alternatives. That is, in a crisis democracies can experiment with autocracy but autocracies can’t experiment with democracy, not even in small doses.
That’s the good news for democracy. People who have announced that Europe’s current experiments with technocracy are a fundamental betrayal of democratic principles are being premature: it could work. But here’s the bad news: there is no guarantee that it will work. The conditions have to be right. The historical evidence suggests that democracies can be flexible only under certain circumstances. To start with, they must not be too poor. In countries where per capita GDP falls below a certain level (usually estimated at around US $7000), democratic experiments with emergency rule often end in disaster. It’s the temporary autocrats who don’t give power back. Political scientists take these thresholds very seriously. Above the line, democracies appear pretty much invulnerable, but below it, even safe-looking democracies might suddenly collapse into something worse.Da pa nimamo odgovora, kako se bomo od tehnokratskih vlad vrnili v normalno stanje.
The problem for Europe is that although there will eventually be elections in Greece, Italy and elsewhere, there are no plans to hold meaningful elections at the Europe-wide level. If the solution to the crisis involves the reallocation of national powers to unelected centralised authorities in an attempt to create a fiscal union, then there is no artificial break-point for this drift away from democracy. The thought of national elections gives Europe’s technocrats sleepless nights, but it’s the thought of Europe-wide elections that really scares them. Ask the people of Europe to elect a president and what would you get? Perhaps something, or someone, worse than the disease you are trying to cure.Fatalizem kot nevarnost za demokracijo.
Tocqueville said that the overriding vice of the democratic age would turn out to be fatalism. He was right. Because the inhabitants of democracies can be confident that in the long run their system works better than the alternatives, they will tend to drift along with their fate. This is not irrational. Following his friend John Stuart Mill, Tocqueville distinguished two kinds of fatalism. There was what Mill called, in the language of the time, ‘Oriental’ fatalism, which is the superstitious belief that our destiny has been decided in advance and there is nothing we can do about it. And then there was ‘Western’ fatalism, which is the belief that we can know how things will turn out, because the scientific order of the world follows regular patterns. ... Political science can show – and over the past thirty years it has shown – that democracies have real advantages over other systems of government. It is our knowledge of this fact that has made it increasingly hard for democracies to know what they should be doing. They are hampered by their knowledge that things will probably turn out all right.
The optimists believe that democracy will be all right because it has always been all right. Indeed, in every crisis of the past hundred years the people who have written off established democracies have been made to look like fools: the doom-mongers always overstate their case because they mistake short-term difficulties for long-term weaknesses. The pessimists believe that this time it’s different: European democracies have finally got themselves into a bind from which there is no obvious means of escape. American democracy is not far behind on the road to ruin. But the pessimists aren’t proposing any alternatives to democracy, they simply want us to know that its luck may finally have run out. ...
The current argument between the optimists and the pessimists has all the hallmarks of an ideological dispute but without any of the content. We don’t have an alternative. The fear is that the political system we’ve relied on in the past might not be up to the task at hand, but it’s the only one we’ve got. You’d think that would make it easier for us to fix it. My fear is that it’s going to make it harder. It makes it more likely that we will drift along with our fate, and into the unknown.