The late American theologian and political commentator Reinhold Niebuhr wrote: ‘Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.’1 Democratic governments have such ancient foundations that we tend to forget their first imaginings — what they were designed to achieve and how they were designed to operate. Thankfully the reformers and revolutionaries of the late 18th century set out some clear designs for government that rested on these foundations. These designs offer us a strong framework for government even now. The ideas of effective representation, of transparency of public decision-making, of disinterested advice combined with political conviction, of constitutional checks and balances — these all have value in today’s world. But these ideas were sharpened before universal suffrage, before the creation of political parties, before the rise of the welfare state (let alone the responsive state), and before the socially dynamic, hyper-connected and media-rich environment in which democratic governments now function. After the collapse of communism, some believed that liberal democracies had won through and that history had ended: that the challenges to democratic government were over. What hubris. Democratic government continues to be challenged from without and from within.
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- Chapter 11