Alternatives to our “Zombie Democracy”

A Review of
How Democracy Ends (Author: David Runciman)

David Runciman is a bit scornful and pessimistic about contemporary democracy, though not without good reason. And he is Head of the Department of Politics and International Studies at Cambridge University, so his new book How Democracy Ends is no mere journalist’s screed. Thankfully, he does not believe that US democracy is about to be overthrown by coup or fascism (a thesis that has helped other recent authors sell a lot of books.) Rather, he foresees democracy as ineffectively bumbling on, in a kind of “half-life” democracy that could continue existing for a long time.

Runciman does admit to risks of what he refers to as “executive aggrandizement,” where public passivity enables an elected strongman to chip away at democracy by bullying democratic institutions, while still paying lip service to democracy. (Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan is an example that comes to mind.) Of our current passivity, Runciman writes:

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Americans are Conservative and Liberal

A Review of
Ideology in America (Authors: Christopher Ellis and James Stimson)

This is an interesting but difficult book. Well-argued via painstaking survey data analysis, Ellis and Stimson’s central thesis is that most people like liberal policies and solutions, and most people prefer conservative symbols. It’s not so obvious what anyone outside of political science research can do with this, but let’s think about it.

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Moral Foundations Theory and Ideological Tolerance

A Review of
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion
(Author: Jonathan Haidt)

Understanding the deep psychology of liberal and conservative attitudes could help all of us to understand each other better and to cooperate constructively. That is why Jonathan Haidt’s work is so critically important.

The core of his approach, which he calls Moral Foundations Theory, has been to identify a small set of “foundations” or basic values that have social and political relevance:

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