The Twenty-First Century Enemies of Democracy

John Keane

John Keane

Among the striking new developments of our times is the reappearance of an old problem with old roots: a creeping disillusionment with democracy itself. The new coolness towards democracy is surfacing within a global context of rising militarism, mounting ecological problems, religious tensions and public disappointment with the institutions of parliamentary democracy. And especially since 2001, disaffection with democracy has been reinforced by the failure to promote democracy by means of war, and by the reassertion of state authority against ‘terrorism’, often using questionable legal and police methods.

These disparate trends serve as the backdrop of this lecture on the new opponents of democracy. It pushes beyond discredited ‘end of history’ perspectives to ask some pertinent questions: who are the new enemies of democracy? Why have they drawn a line against the principles and practice of democracy? How potentially effective is their hostility and - a troubling paradox - could it be that the principal threats to the legitimacy and functioning of contemporary democracy are actors masquerading as democrats?