A Tale of Two Democracies

Ellen Meiksins Wood analyses democracy's historical progress and tots up the balance sheet for the present day.

The 'End of History' – the idea that liberal democracy as we know it in modern capitalist societies is the final destination of progress and modernity and, despite its own imperfections in practice, has already driven all potential rivals from the field – looks rather shop-worn. Who would want to bet on the ultimate triumph of Western-style liberal democracy in the face of Bosnia and other events that dominate the evening news? What does it have to do with the ideologies and movements that motivate large sections of the world's population, such as nationalism – whether in destructive or more benign manifestations – and religious fundamentalism? What about poverty, homelessness, ecological devastation? And new doubts arise every day, as the advanced capitalist economies seem unable to lift themselves out of recession and a new note of fear, especially about mass unemployment, can be heard in the pronouncements issuing from G7 summits, in an atmosphere of crisis affecting political leadership and party systems in the most mature liberal democracies, even, as dramatically in Italy, to the point of collapse.

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