How Democracy Ends, David Runciman

Tom Ginsburg
Content Type
Journal Article
Political Science Quarterly
Issue Number
Publication Date
Winter 2019-20
Academy of Political Science
It is hardly a secret that democracy is in trouble around the world, and the phenomenon of backsliding has prompted a small wave of books diagnosing the problem and suggesting solutions. David Runciman’s contribution to this literature is a breezy and readable tour through mechanisms and alternatives. Easily weaving political theory with grounded examples, he has produced a highly accessible analysis focusing more on diagnosis than cure. Runciman’s title is to be distinguished from accounts of how specific democracies are dying or what might be done to save constitutional democracy. Instead, he focuses on the idea that Western democracy is undergoing something of a midlife crisis. Nothing lasts forever, and while democracy has had a pretty good run, it now “looks exhausted in the places it has the deepest roots” (p. 72). Contemplating democracy’s death, the book is organized around a series of mechanisms by which this might come about: coup, environmental catastrophe, technological displacement, and the various alternatives of benevolent and not so benevolent authoritarianism that have been put on offer. His main argument is that while we are attracted to democracy because of its history, the past does not repeat itself, and we are likely to face new challenges not yet contemplated. If democracy dies, the autopsy will be a new one.
Democracy, Book Review, Political Science
Political Geography
Global Focus