Comfortably seated in the Parisian coffee place Les Deux Magots, smoking a Gauloise and sipping Pernod, spending the week-end in their cabin at the lake of Konstanz, holding the weekly meeting of a progressive Roman newspaper, enjoying cherry in an exclusive London club, vocally criticizing their political leaders and fellow citizens in a crowded Latin-American restaurant, presenting their powerpoint slides at an academic workshop in a Greek island, participating in a conference admirably organized by Fudan University in Shanghai, many Western intellectuals, philosophers, sociologists, political scientists somberly decry the sad, though inevitable, demise of liberal democracy.
Somewhere in a square in the capital cities of Turkey and Egypt many youngsters are beaten by the police, hidden in an African jungle regime opponents try to escape military raids, deprived of food and, perhaps, tortured, many personalities are incarcerated in Asian prisons, hit by a fatwa several Arab writers and intellectuals have gone underground, hundred thousands of non-Western men and women every day fight and knowingly risk their life in the name of the democracy they have met and seen practiced somewhere: Oxford, Harvard, la Sorbonne, the Freie Universität of Berlin, perhaps, even Rome, yes, the very democracy that exists in the West. Never so many persons of different geographical origins, religions, colors of the skin, education, age have fought so hard and so incessantly in the name of one ideal.
Two theses can be argued: first, there is no crisis of Western liberal democracy as an idea/ideal. There are some ‘crises’ within some of Western liberal democratic regimes. This distinction is absolutely indispensable. It must be kept in mind at all times in order to avoid analytical confusions and misplace suggestions. Second, most of the crises (problems, challenges, drawbacks) are the consequences of the weakness, the decline, in some cases, the demise of political parties and the disarray of the party systems. These ‘crises’ have more or less seriously affected the entire political system, especially the crucial loop of representation and accountability. Today, what is at stake in Western liberal democracies is how to withstand the populist juggernaut and to reorganize and improve the circuits of representation and accountability by retaining pluralism and containing inequalities. Though adamantly and without any hesitation siding with the oppressed who, no matter their precise goal, are challenging authoritarian regimes of all kinds and shades. All the criticisms addressed against Western democratic regimes, especially the ones pointing at their fragility, appear to me less than convincing. For the time being I will just stress one major point. Existing democracies have already proved to be capable to allow (parliamentary and political) representation to populist movements and parties and, in a way, to tame them. Which alternatives could have done better? More to come in future.