Theorising Democide: Why and How Democracies Fail
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The common assumption is that the path to democratisation is, once begun, near impossible to reverse. Particularly where democratic transition has been properly consolidated conventional wisdom and empirical evidence both suggest that no democracy should follow the example of Classical Athens or Germany's Weimar Republic and return to despotism.
Starting from the premise that democracies are often deeply implicated in their own downfall, Theorising Democide challenges this conventional view by showing how democratic collapse is symptomatic of the inherent logic of democracy. Democide, in some cases, can thus be understood as a kind of ideological suicide with the tenets and devices of democracy being somehow intrinsic to its own collapse.
In other words democide denotes the capacity that democracy has to come undone, to risk its own safety, to take its own life while doing what it was intended to do.
the transition towards democracy. Few studies, to this end, examine the collapse of mature or strong democracies – in part because of the widely held assumption that mature or strong democracies are almost near impenetrable to attack. In this sense, the general tendency has been to approach democratic breakdowns as an anomaly whose true source stem from such factors as economic instability and inequality, inappropriate or ineffective institutional frameworks or the existence of intractable ethnic
Stephen John Goodlad (ed.), The Last Best Hope: A Democracy Reader (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001), p.50. Ibid., p.57. Pabst, ‘The Crisis of Capitalist Democracy,’ p.46; Howard, ‘Two Hundred Years of Error?,’ p.18. Claude Lefort (trans. David Macey), Democracy and Political Theory (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1988), p.19. Ibid. Castoriadis, ‘The Greek Polis and the Creation of Democracy,’ p.274. Lefort, Democracy and Political Theory, pp.19–20. Ibid., p.28. Though it should be noted here that,
morality or politics to the exclusion of all other countervailing measures is dangerous and makes states of emergency dangerous for democracy and its citizens. This proposal, albeit in a more tempered tone, effectively offers a restatement of Loewenstein’s claim: democracies can remain democratic when they become militant in their own self-defence. Yet by seeking to make emergency measures safer for democracies, and thereby incorporating them into the infrastructure of democratic politics as a
another – for example, a president, a monarch or a deity – autonomy gifts the power to effect laws to society and the individual. Because of this, the laws that are instituted by necessity remain open to question and repeal – by oneself and by others. As Castoriadis once said, ‘I will say that a society is autonomous not only if it knows that it makes its laws but also if it is up to the task of putting them into question.’48 And, as an added rider, there are no external checks or balances, no
that a democracy is in significant ways constituted to go beyond itself, making it radically open to any number of possibilities. ‘In a democracy people can do anything’ was Castoriadis’ point.49 The fact that they do not in most instances is no guarantee that they will not when the right time and the right people converge. And when it does, at least according to this reading, there is very little that democracy itself can do to stem that tide without itself resorting to non- or anti-democratic