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Could Democracy still Govern Well?

John Dunn

Democracy is the sole surviving global candidate for a good form of government. The cumulative discrediting of its rivals has left it an illusory potency and a formidable capacity to confuse and weaken political judgment. The good government of a collection of human beings requires them to be effectively controlled to achieve a range of goods they effectively share. This is an ingratiating formula but a highly implausible concatenation of ideas: very hard to recognize, for all the efforts of John Rawls, in the contours of any class society. Within the structures of the present world economy, it looks less inadvertently mythical than deliberately mystificatory.

The self-conception and self-presentation of contemporary representative electoral democracy is intelligible as a version of what democracy might still mean in today’s world. It has never been a wholly convincing way to see what is going on, but in the last four decades its implausibility has become drastically more conspicuous. That shift in apparent blatancy has had a natural, obvious, and all but universal impact on the judgments and feelings of the citizens it purports to represent and endeavours to command. It has weakened its political efficacy relentlessly whilst the demands that history places upon it have risen inexorably. Its continuing power in de-authorizing regimes which have clearly failed gives it very little capacity to legitimate most of the life or allocative decisions of any society. We need to face what this means.

Key words (*): Democracy; Public Administration

(*) From CLAD’s “Thesaurus on Public Administration”.

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