A Wake-Up Call for Democracy

By Peter MacLeod, Richard Johnson

27 January 2022

Last month, U.S. President Joseph R. Biden convened the Summit for Democracy, a three-day virtual gathering of leaders and representatives from more than one hundred countries, including Canada, who share at least one trait: a concern that democracy itself is under siege.

With democratic norms eroding throughout the West, and greater bellicosity from adversaries like China and Russia, the summit was overdue. A 2019 report from the University of Cambridge found that dissatisfaction with democracy has grown to its highest levels worldwide in over a quarter century. Harvard academic, Yascha Mounk warns that the free world is going through a period of “democratic deconsolidation.” His research suggests that fewer than half of people born after the 1980s in stalwart democracies like New Zealand and the Netherlands “believe it is essential to live in a democracy.”

This underlying fragility is giving rise to what liberal thinker Matthew Taylor has called the three Ps: “populism, polarization and pessimism” — sensibilities which are corrosive to democratic governance and which have only deepened during the pandemic.

This is why Yale scholar Hélène Landemore has called for an almost total rethink of how western democracies practice representative government. Writing in the pages of the current edition of Foreign Policy, Landemore demonstrates why she may be the most important democratic theorist working today. Her prescriptions for democratic renewal include a radical expansion in how everyday citizens can play a role in taking decisions and setting political priorities without themselves becoming politicians.