The opening quotation from Harold Laski was written to describe the Western democracies in the middle of the Great Depression in the late 1920s and early 1930s. It reminds us that cynicism and disillusionment with politics and the democratic system were quite widespread in earlier periods of history. Unemployment, large-scale poverty and the seeming incapacity of the system to respond gave a distinctive flavour to the disillusionment of the 1930s. There were fears – some of them realized in the build up to and aftermath of the Second World War – that because of political failures people would give up on democracy.2 The atmosphere of the Cold War in the 1950s as noted in the preface to this book in part encouraged Bernard Crick to write his inspirational book in Defence of Politics that was first published in 1962. Later in the 1960s in the context of the Vietnam War and protests there was a surge of interest in political alienation in the United States and other countries.3 In the 1970s there was a wave of concern about the ‘ungovernability’ of democracies,4 and a worry that people would give up on democracy because there were too many demands from citizens and not enough capacity on the part of governments to respond. These fears proved largely unfounded as a generation of politicians responded with programmes to limit government. There followed as noted in Chapter 1 a period of expansion for democracy with the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of dictatorships in other locations.
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