Points of Crisis or, Is It All Over?

20 Pages Posted: 18 Jun 2020 Last revised: 22 Jul 2020

Date Written: 2019


Are democratic politics, institutions, and culture in crisis? The conviction that they are is increasingly widespread in America and around the world. This may be one of the few ideas shared in common on the political left and right, as they disagree ever-more bitterly and irreconcilably about almost everything else. On the left, the crisis is often associated with populism. The election of President Trump in the US and the referendum vote in Britain to leave the European Union are typically, in fact almost invariably, cited on the left as examples of dangerous populism. Seen from the right, the sources of crisis include the growth of identity politics, tearing society into aggrieved tribes; the narrowing scope for free expression; and the growth of unaccountable administrative and bureaucratic power.

If liberal institutions are in trouble in America and beyond, this article looks at some current thinking about why, ranging from Establishment liberals like Professor Kim Scheppele – to whom Brexit and “populism” are anathema - and the more independent-minded philosopher John Gray, to conservatives like Angelo Codevilla and Charles Kesler, to Yascha Mounk, an uneasy liberal, and Patrick Deneen, an eclectic anti-liberal.

The article looks in detail at several likely sources of democratic crisis. Perhaps it is too Spenglerian to suggest that these – such as the growth of bureaucratic power, the erosion of free expression especially in the institutions that should foster it, and the growth of political tribalism and mutual hatred -- might actually bring down liberal institutions in America. But as the article suggests, it might be best if these things, or at least some of them, were ameliorated, before the air of crisis grows even worse.

Keywords: Democracy, Crisis, Liberalism, Free Speech, Identity politics, Brexit, Scheppele, Administrative Law

Suggested Citation

Schwarzschild, Maimon, Points of Crisis or, Is It All Over? (2019). 56 San Diego Law Review 1069 (2019), San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 20-456, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3627852

Maimon Schwarzschild (Contact Author)

University of San Diego School of Law ( email )

5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110-2492
United States
619-260-2343 (Phone)
619-260-4791 (Fax)

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