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How globalisation and mediatisation challenge our democracies

Democracy is undoubtedly the most successful political idea today. If we define democracy, minimalistically, as a regime in which the most important governmental offices are filled through contested elections based on universal suffrage, it is easy to see the extraordinary expansion of democracy worldwide. Successive waves of democratisation have led to a steady increase of the number of democracies since the American and French Revolutions, but especially so during the 20th century in which democracy has become a universal value. Never in history has the number of human beings living in democratic regimes been higher than today. There exists no alternative form of government that is better suited to managing the way in which we live together. Democracy allows for individual freedom and self-determination, and it enables citizens to lead their governments towards decisions that are in the best interests of the general public. But at the same time, it has become clear that democracy is not ineluctable. There still are a considerable number of stable non-democratic regimes worldwide. Failures of democratic transitions have resulted in a relapse into autocracy - for example in most of the Arab Spring countries. And even in established democracies - old and new - doubts about the legitimacy of democratic forms of governments have grown. Citizens have become disillusioned with their political leaders and institutions, and have increasingly favoured political forces that more or less openly challenge the norms and practices of liberal democracy. In a culmination of this trend, the world's oldest liberal democracy - the United States of America - saw the election of a president, in 2016, who outspokenly questions basic principles and rules of American democracy. In stark contrast to the optimism prevailing in the early 1990s, when some observers declared the triumph of liberal democracy and the “end of history” (Fukuyama 1989), assessments of the qualities of contemporary democracies have become more cautious. Pessimism is rising, epitomised in recent scholarly criticism of democracy as the rule of the ignorant and the irrational that fails to produce competent and responsive government (Achen and Bartels 2016; Brennan 2016), but also in accounts about a worldwide backlash against liberalism as a consequence of a crisis of Western democracy (Foa and Mounk 2016), paralleled with a resurgence of authoritarianism since the mid-2000s (Diamond et al. 2016). What has happened to our democracies? Where are they going? The aim of this Debate in the Swiss Political Science Review is to show why and how democracy has been and still is under pressure by what we see as the two major challenges to democracy in the 21st century: the processes of globalisation and mediatisation.1 In doing so, we take stock of the most important results of a twelve year interdisciplinary research programme: the Swiss National Science Foundation's National Centre of Competence in Research Challenges to democracy in the 21st century at the University of Zurich - the NCCR Democracy - running from fall 2005 to fall 2017. This introductory contribution, written by the current and the former academic directors of the NCCR Democracy, provides an overview of the conceptual perspective, and presents the most important empirical results and theoretical conclusions from the overall research programme. The subsequent contributions, written by the leaders of the major NCCR Democracy research modules teaming up with researchers from individual projects, provide an in-depth review and discussion of various aspects of these two challenges.

Author(s) Kübler, Daniel & Hanspeter Kriesi
Series/Publication Swiss Political Science Review 23(3)
Year 2017
Pages 231–245
URL http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/spsr.12265/full
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