After the End of History

Lecture given by Armin Schäfer in Cologne

In his series of three lectures, Armin Schäfer wants to assess and explain why there is a crisis of democracy. Following the rise of populist parties, many observers have painted a dark picture of the state of democracy. Not a few of them recommend less democracy as a reaction to these trends. If voters turn towards parties that challenge liberal democracy, so the logic goes, then one has to minimize their influence on political decisions. Against these claims to save democracy from its citizens, he aims to defend democracy and democratic equality. If democracy does not work the way it is supposed to, one should seek ways to improve it rather than blaming those who are disappointed and feel poorly represented. Doing so means asking how substantive and descriptive representation are linked and how many decisions can be delegated to non-majoritarian institutions without hollowing out democracy itself.

In 1989, Francis Fukuyama famously predicted the End of History. Although not all countries were democratic at the time, he maintained that there were no credible rivals to the idea of “liberal democracy” left. Free markets and political freedom were close allies from his point of view. Empirical research about the spread of democracy supported Fukuyama’s bold claims—in several waves, the total and relative number of democracies had been rising across the world, reaching unprecedented levels. However, since the 1990s, a much soberer view has replaced his teleological optimism and there are signs of democratic decay even in some of the most long-standing democracies. This lecture discusses the reasons for the contemporary sense of crisis and looks at empirical evidence for democratic decline across the world.

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