Demise of Democracy

27 August 2015

There was a time, not long ago, when democracies were on the rise. Hope was in the air as country after country held its first rather free election. How far we have regressed since then. Democracy is under threat almost everywhere now.

I refer not just to the persistence of autocratic regimes, as in China and Zimbabwe, nor even to elected leaders who have become thugs in presidential palaces, as in Russia and Turkey. Many of the established “democracies” have succumbed to paralyzed or pendulum politics. In the United States, it is paralysis, as a Democratic President battles with a Republican Congress. In countries such as France, there is fruitless swinging between left and right. Where governments have become ineffectual, private forces act with impunity.1 (I have discussed this at length in my book Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left right and center, as well as in a number of these TWOGS.)

Of late, the problem in my own country, Canada, may seem different, but the consequences have also been much the same. Here the domination of the political process has been on behalf of private interests, while many of the government services that are not economic—social, environmental, research, and so on—have been emasculated.

The nature of our parliamentary system can enable one party with a minority of the votes to form a majority government. That has not been so bad when the party elected is moderate, with public sentiments on various sides of it. What we have now is a party well over to one side—rather dogmatically neo-conservative—that upon election proceeded to ignore the 61% of the population that voted for something else. We don’t have a thug in a presidential palace in Canada, not quite. We have a bully in a prime ministerial office, who has been damaging our democratic institutions.

Canada is in an election now, and this week I published a commentary in the Globe and Mail, a major newspaper in the country. My original title was “Let’s hear it from the silenced majority”. If you are Canadian, I urge you to read it, and look at If you are not Canadian, you may wish to read it anyway, if not because your own country is in a similar situation, or could be, then just to hear about what has happened to good old decent, balanced Canada. (Have a look at the comments too in this traditionally conservative newspaper, especially the many early, spontaneous ones before the big guns shot back.) Your own country could be next.

© Henry Mintzberg 2015


1 Nearly two hundred years ago, in his monumental work Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville asked, “Can it be believed that the democracy which has overthrown the feudal system and vanquished kings will retreat before tradesmen and capitalists?” Now he has his answer: Yes.