Most of us probably go through periods of serious scepticism regarding the nature and practice of democratic government. Indeed, having lived and worked in Singapore for a spell during the ‘reign’ of Lee Kuan Yew, I found myself pontificating, at times, on the benefits of ‘benevolent despotism’. In the present climate of ‘fake news’, turbulent populism, relentless advocacy, ‘echo chamber’ debate, dialogue mostly among the like-minded, and massive spending to manipulate public opinion, there is the grave danger of heightening that scepticism and heralding the role of absolutist leaders.
In his important and controversial book The People Versus Democracy, (2018), Yasha Mounk provides evidence of a significant decline in support for democracy in most Western countries, and a growing openness, including amongst the young, to alternative and more authoritarian models. He argues that the populism he terms ‘democratic illiberalism’ should be seen as a response to the undemocratic liberalism of the late 20th century which saw power held in the hands of unaccountable technocrats and a self-serving elite. There is a current tendency to conflate authoritarianism and populism, even though the latter ostensibly commits itself to democracy. Authoritarianism, however is what frequently results from the inevitable failure of populists in power to deliver their simple blazoned solutions.
What Democracy Needs Now.