Jonathan Sumption has given an interview to Yascha Mounk at Persuasion about why democracy is in peril. The basic problem, he thinks, is that citizens of liberal democracies have become more and more risk averse and as a result want the state to do more and more to protect them from the kind of minor, everyday risks that are part and parcel of living as free citizens. Here is an extract:
Mounk: It strikes me that when I was in grad school and starting to learn about the subject, there was tremendous certainty about the future of democracy. Now the consensus seems to have flipped. Why do you think that, in all the time the American and British democracies have existed, it is at this point that we’re seeing special stress on the institutions?
Sumption: I think there are a number of reasons, but the most important of them is risk aversion. This is, in one sense, a perfectly natural development of human societies once a larger number of people becomes involved in public affairs. But over the last century, people in the West have become progressively more risk averse. They have become progressively anxious that the state should protect them against risks which are not just sudden, external, once-in-a-century catastrophes, but are very much part of the ordinary risks associated with any kind of life in which there is a reasonable degree of individual freedom. Financial risks, health risks, safety risks of one sort or another. We expect a high degree of protection from the state against these risks.
The problem is that when you get up a fear of risks which are associated with ordinary life, and you look to the state to deal with that, the state will react in the only way it knows, which is by introducing coercion, in order to prevent you doing the things that give rise to the risk and prevent everyone else doing them as well. So you get a situation where the state suppresses part of life in order to suppress the taking of risks, which is actually inseparable from any kind of free activity in a democracy.
Worth reading in full.
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