RE: The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It, by Yascha Mounk
For all that the enemies of technocracy get right, though, their view is ultimately as simplistic as the antidemocratic one. The world we now inhabit is extremely complex. We need to monitor hurricanes and inspect power plants, reduce global carbon emissions and contain the spread of nuclear weapons, regulate banks and enforce consumer-safety standards. All of these tasks require a tremendous amount of expertise and a great degree of coordination. It’s unrealistic to think that ordinary voters or even their representatives in Congress might become experts in what makes for a safe power plant, or that the world could find an effective response to climate change without entering cumbersome international agreements.
It is true that to recover its citizens’ loyalty, our democracy needs to curb the power of unelected elites who seek only to pad their influence and line their pockets. But it is also true that to protect its citizens’ lives and promote their prosperity, our democracy needs institutions that are, by their nature, deeply elitist. This, to my mind, is the great dilemma that the United States—and other democracies around the world—will have to resolve if they wish to survive in the coming decades. … We need to build a new set of political institutions that are both more responsive to the views and interests of ordinary people, and better able to solve the immense problems that our society will face in the decades to come.
the populist logic ultimately works the same way on the left as it does on the right: Once you’ve said that you alone speak for the whole of the people, any form of opposition to you immediately becomes illegitimate. So once you take power, it becomes very tempting to abolish independent institutions like the courts, to suppress critical voices in the press, and to concentrate more and more power in your own hands.
Nearly all democracies in the world have been founded as monoethnic and monocultural. Decades of immigration have challenged this self-conception. And while a lot of people are very happy to embrace this transformation, others are very resentful about it. … So what we’re trying to create right now is a historically unique experiment.
Two convictions flow from this observation. The first is that we need to fight for an inclusive nationalism. This means that we oppose any attempt to identify the nation with a particular ethnic or religious group … we must also emphasize what we have in common as Americans, rather than scoffing at the need for collective identity … The second conviction gets to the crux of your question. Any genuine liberal democracy will treat all of its citizens the same. But it also lies in the nature of democracies that they get to decide who joins the club. So we need to accept that there can be a legitimate range of opinion about the level of immigration we should have.
Despite all of America’s specific problems, it is the oldest democracy in the world. With the exception of Canada, it has the deepest experience with trying to make a multiethnic democracy work. If the forces that are pulling us apart are strong enough to make democracy fail in this country, I fear that similar reasons will also prove strong enough to make democracy fail in most other countries in the world.