Four Vices and One Virtue
Strenghts and Challenges of Democracy in Europe
Research Paper by Victor Lapuente
European democratic societies are fracturing. Territorial divisions are emerging and, at the same time, differences, both economic and generational, have been widening within these territories.
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All across the European continent, democracy is suffering from a combination of four problems. These are the four vices we will analyze in this article: 1) that European democracies, instead of converging, diverge in fundamental aspects, from the absolutely different levels of social trust among the citizens of distinct territories to the also extraordinary variation in the quality of institutions among those territories; 2) that the two great intermediaries in a democratic society, political parties and the media, are collapsing, leaving an atomized landscape of new political formations and "niche" information platforms; 3) that the growing individualism of our time, far from distancing us from ideological polarization, has exacerbated it; 4) that the new cultural conflict or “war” (from banning bullfighting to changing street names) has replaced the old economic discussion (for instance, on whether we need to raise or lower taxes) characteristic of democracies. And the problem is that, in cultural matters, it is more difficult to reach agreement than in economic matters.
Despite these problems or vices of democracy in Europe, there is one great virtue of democracy in Europe, one that actually derives from its apparent weakening internal division: that Europe is a true policy market.
About the author
Victor LAPUENTE is Professor of Political Science, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.