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Creative Crises of Democracy

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Joris Gijsenbergh, Wim De Jong, Saskia Hollander and Tim Houwen

The «crisis of democracy» is as old as democracy itself. From the first democracy in Athens up until western democracy in the twenty-first century, criticism and complaints about the deficiencies of democracy have recurred. Pessimistic accounts typically focus on the destructive potential of these crises.
This collection of essays takes an alternative approach and draws attention to the creativity inherent in these «crises of democracy» – the potential for renewal and adaptation.
In the volume, historians, philosophers and political scientists from the Netherlands, Great Britain, Sweden and Austria tackle the three key questions prompted by this perspective: what moments of creativity can be discerned during crises of democracy in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries; how does democracy adapt during moments of crisis; and how does the notion of a democratic crisis affect political reality and vice versa?

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Introduction 11

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11 INTRODUCTION Creative Crises of Democracy Wim DE JONG, Joris GIJSENBERGH, Tim HOUWEN and Saskia HOLLANDER However grave the indictment that may be brought against democracy, its friends can answer: “What better alternative do you offer?” […] Hope, often disappointed but always renewed, is the anchor by which the ship that carries democracy and its for- tunes will have to ride out this latest storm as it has ridden out many storms before. James Bryce, 19211 One of the most striking aspects of democracy to the modern eye is its remarkable resilience in the face of challenges. Democracy has a great potential for renewal and adaptation to new circumstances. When a certain constituency introduces democracy, it tends to grow much attached to it, and abolishes it only under immense pressure. Crises in the historical journey of democracy, which as we know from the bitter experience of the twentieth century can turn out catastrophic, can also breed renewal, leading to the reinvigoration and enrichment of the inventory of democratic possibilities and practices. This issue of resilience is not merely an academic question: now, twenty years since the collapse of communism, the discourse of demo- cratic crisis is all-pervasive. Shortly after 1989, democratic triumphal- ism dominated for a time and, although not entirely fairly, has remained associated with Francis Fukuyama’s “End of History” thesis.2 Although there was some awareness back then that the rational had not necessari- ly become reality, there were great hopes that liberal democracy would conquer the world by force...

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