Blogs > Cliopatria > Democracy as Process: Can we lose it?

Apr 9, 2004 12:49 am

Democracy as Process: Can we lose it?

In my recent HNN article on the political crises in Taiwan and South Korea I posited that democracy is more a process than a system, and that there are three"landmark moments" in the development of a democracy:

1. First peaceful transfer of power to opposition party
2. First peaceful transfer of power to another party (non-entrenchment of power)
3. Resolution of first major constitutional crisis

Taiwan remains gripped in a struggle with both #2 and #3, and may not survive the process unscathed; Korea is grappling with #3 reasonably successfully.

What I implied in the conclusion but didn't develop is that the latter two conditions must be continually renewed: it is possible to backslide out of functional democracy. Japan's"1.5 party" system has been on the margin of functional for decades; Mussolini and Hitler are the most notorious examples of how a multi-party democracy can be hijacked. And, as I suggested, the US might be on the verge of it today.

I was just talking about the electronic voting problem: the loss of transparency in elections could presage a loss of legitimacy. There are other problems as well: media partisanization and the"state of emergency" [via Peevish], political polarization [also via Peevish], the politicization of government, and low levels of interest and participation in politics, including such low-investment activities as voting every couple of years.

I'm not giving up. But it's getting to the point where the libertarian position, government is your enemy, is starting to look more realistic than alarmist. I prefer to think that it's the administration, rather than a structural problem, though, so I remain liberal rather than libertarian. Democracy and rights are two of the greatest endowments of humanity, self-rule and self-control the greatest achievements of society. I saddens me, enrages me, to see them threatened.

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Konrad M Lawson - 4/10/2004

Interesting post and some important points, both here, and in your HNN article! I have a few comments on your eval. of the state of democracy in Korea/Taiwan which I posted as an article to my own blog at:

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