Reflections on 2019 – the democratic rebuff to progressivism

Democracy is a mesmerising word. The power of the idea overwhelms definition and precise thinking. The mandarin political theorist, Emeritus Professor John Dunn of Cambridge University, posed these questions in Breaking Democracy’s Spell:

“Why does this word democracy now hold such singular political authority? Where is the power that lurks so strangely within it? What exactly is it that modern populations are consenting to when they subject themselves to democracy’s sway?”

John Dunn, Breaking Democracy’s Spell

Dunn’s response is to say that:

“In essence, democracy is above all a formula for imagining subjection to the power and will of others without sacrificing personal dignity or voluntarily jeopardizing individual or family interests.”

John Dunn, Breaking Democracy’s Spell

Democracy is not in any way a synonym for good government, and has often in the past, and perhaps more and more in the present been a synonym for the opposite, bad government.

So there is some caution in invoking democracy in a retrospective to explain any events of the year. Yet a tussle about the meaning of democracy is at the heart of many political events of the year.

I see a common thread of democratic rebuff of the actions, authority and dominance of progressive liberal elites:

  • Scott Morrison’s quiet Australians election victory in June 2016
  • The disintegration of the USA Democratic Party’s impeachment effort
  • The UK election’s endorsement of the prior democratic voice to leave the EU

These events have often been portrayed as a revolt of authoriatarian, intolerant populist nationalism. I wonder if they are better understood as a rejection of an authoritarian, liberal progressivism, and the actions of many to refuse subjection to the power and will of this elite, who sacrifice the personal dignity of many to their grandiose aims.

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