When Democracy Is on the Ballot

Issue Date July 2024
Volume 35
Issue 3
Page Numbers 17–23
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Democratic self-rule is an unending argument about what democracy is. In normal times, democracy reproduces its legitimacy by its routine operation. In times of political crisis, however, the defining issue of an election can become the commitment of adversaries to the rules of the democratic game. At such times, polarization can become lethal to the very system that both sides say they are committed to maintaining. All democracies could use serious institutional reform, but we will not begin unless we abandon the illusion that democracy’s problems would be solved if we could just defeat authoritarian populists at the ballot box. It is our institutions, not just the players, that need changing. 

About the Author

Michael Ignatieff is a historian and the former leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. He has served as rector and president of Central European University and is the author, most recently, of On Consolation: Finding Solace in Dark Times (2021).

View all work by Michael Ignatieff

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