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After Tocqueville
The Promise and Failure of Democracy
A Book by Chilton Williamson, Jr.


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The End of Democracy?

The fall of the Berlin Wall. The collapse of the Iron Curtain. The Orange Revolution. The Arab Spring.

The rush of events in recent decades seems to confirm that Alexis de Tocqueville was right: the future belongs to democracy. But take a closer look. The history of democracy since the 1830s, when Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America, reveals a far more complicated picture. And the future, author Chilton Williamson Jr. demonstrates, appears rather unpromising for democratic institutions around the world.

The fall of communism sparked the popular notion that the spread of democracy was inevitable. After Tocqueville challenges this sunny notion. Various aspects of twenty-first-century life that Tocqueville could scarcely have imagined—political, economic, social, religious, intellectual, technological, environmental—militate against democracy, both in developing societies and in the supposedly democratic West.

This piercing, elegantly written book raises crucial questions about the future of democracy, including:

  • Just what is democracy? As Williamson shows, definitions and concepts have become so varied that the term is effectively meaningless.
  • How does a system whose institutions and habits arose in small-scale societies adapt to a postmodern, globalized world?
  • After two centuries of democratization, are Western countries really more free?
  • How can democracy endure when people care more about procuring what they want than about securing liberty?
  • How does a political system survive when it is beset by problems that cannot be solved by political means?

Two decades ago, Francis Fukuyama famously pronounced the “end of history.” History, it turns out, is still very much with us. Democracy (whatever it is) may not be in the decades and centuries to come.

 
 

 

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