Sheri Berman

The Decline of Democratic Institutions in the United States and Europe and the Rise of Political Dissatisfaction

There are many challenges facing western liberal democracy today. Globalization, neo- liberalism and rising automation have made life more insecure for the working and middle classes and changing social norms and rising immigration have left many feeling uncomfortable and out-of-touch in their own countries.


Declining democratic responsiveness and linkage in the US and Europe


  • Political Elites
  • Populism
  • Democracy

Yes however important, these challenges alone cannot explain liberal democracy’s problems.

Just like a healthy body identifies and fights off myriad bugs and viruses while a weakened one falls prey to them, so too do “healthy” political systems identify and respond to the challenges they face.

Democracy’s problems over the past years haven’t come merely or even primarily from the challenges they have faced, but rather from a diminished capacity to recognize and respond to them.

Some decades ago Samuel Huntington wrote an influential book entitled Political Order in Changing Societies.

Political Order was motivated by a puzzle: why were so many contemporary “third world” countries mired in political disorder?

Huntington argued that these countries problems stemmed from a disjuncture between the challenges these they faced and the strength of their political institutions.

“The larger, more complex, more complicated and diverse” the demands emanating from society, the more political stability was “dependent on the existence of strong political institutions” capable of responding to them.

Asian, African and Latin American countries in the 1950s and 60s were experiencing rapid social and economic change

—urbanization, increases in literacy and education, industrialization, mass media expansion— increasing their citizens’ expectations and demands, but they lacked political institutions capable of satisfying them, leading to growing political dissatisfaction, resentment, disorder and even violence.

Although Huntington wrote Political Order as a diagnosis of the political problems facing the contemporary “third world,” he recognized that

just as political institutions could develop, increasing a political system’s capacity to recognize and respond to challenges, so too could they decay, causing a political system to become less responsive and effective over time.

This is precisely what has happened in Western democracies over the past decades. To put it bluntly, the real cause of Western democracies’ current travails is that they have become dramatically less democratic.