For well over a decade, scholars and pundits have proclaimed that democracy is in a state of crisis. Some argued that the epic failure to bring democracy to Iraq and Libya, and events in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, indicated a global “democratic recession.” Meanwhile, China’s political rise and economic advance, have indicated a viable political alternative to the “Western model of democracy.” Indeed, the Western model of democracy has not only become the embattled cause of right-wing nationalists, but the pandemic has shown that these states are ill equipped to deal with national emergencies requiring high levels of coordinated international solutions. On all sides, the critics argue, democracy appears endangered.
Yet what if “the crisis of democracy” is actually a sign of democracy’s vitality? On this reading, Brexit and Trumpism are, in reality, the products of resentment and distrust of political personnel and institutions that are failing to deliver the promise of democracy. In other words, democracy is not being rejected per se but rather an elitist political system that is failing to protect the power of the people. Such a suggestion lies at the heart of Hélène Landemore’s new book, Open Democracy: Reinventing Popular Rule for the Twenty-First Century, which argues that the problem today is not democracy in itself but rather the existing paradigm of democracy, which is too elitist and is incapable of fulfilling the democratic expectations of the people.