Democracy in America – How Can We Save It?

The American model once hailed as the exemplar of liberal democracy now faces serious doubts. Political infighting, money politics and vetocracy render it virtually impossible to deliver quality governance. A sense of disillusionment with US politics and pessimism about democracy have become widespread among Americans.

What’s at stake? How can we save it?

In a world where democracy has lost much of its legitimacy and lustre, the question has never been more pressing. How can we revive it and make sure it works for all?

CIPE believes that the answer lies in a new understanding of democracy. In its broadest sense, it means a new form of self-government that includes not just elections, parties and government by representatives but a wider range of civil associations designed to protect against the dangers of political despotism.

Democracy in America explains how, in a democratic culture, the wellspring of people’s political passion is the equalisation of power, property and status. They come to feel that prevailing inequalities are neither necessary nor natural, but rather contingent and up for grabs, able to be altered by democratic action itself.

Tocqueville recognised that this was not just an ethical principle but an essential condition for democracy to work. Without it, the prevailing balance of power would easily break down. He saw that the only way to avoid this was to bolster people’s faith in democracy, so that its dynamism could continue to enliven the culture of self-government.

This is why he insisted that democratic societies must nurture a culture of civic pride and engagement. It is also why he argued that civic associations must be encouraged to develop the kind of productive attitudes that can sustain this culture. In particular, he emphasized that there must be a strong sense of honour and an enduring commitment to the community. These values are reflected in the Biden-Harris Administration’s historic progress to build a stronger and fairer society, including strengthening women’s economic empowerment and safety in the workplace, advancing pay equity and military justice reform, and investing in rebuilding America’s infrastructure.

The United States has a responsibility to the rest of the world to promote these values and practices in its own sphere of influence, and to ensure that the principles of democracy are practised in places where they will do the most good for the most people. The failure to do this has resulted in disastrous interference and regime change in countries that would have been far better off with a more stable, indigenous form of self-government. It is a fundamental flaw in our foreign policy that we should not overlook.