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Democracy Devouring Itself: The Rise of the Incompetent Citizen and the Appeal of Right Wing Populism


For 60 years after the end of World War II, democratic governance has flourished and expanded its reach. Now it appears this process has stalled and is even reversing in many of the established democracies of Europe and North America. Momentum now appears to be with right wing populist alternatives to democratic governance. In attempting to make sense of these developments, I argue that they are not the result of fluctuating circumstances or a momentary retreat in the progress toward ever greater democratization. Adopting a broadly political psychological perspective, I instead suggest they reflect a structural weakness inherent in democratic governance, one that makes democracies always susceptible to the siren call of right wing populism. I will further argue that as practices in countries such as the United States become increasingly democratic, this structural weakness is more clearly exposed and consequential. In the process, the vulnerability of democratic governance to right wing populist alternatives becomes greater. Hence the conclusion that democracy is likely to devour itself.

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