THE CRISIS OF DEMOCRACY: REPORT ON THE GOVERNABILITY OF DEMOCRACIES TO THE TRILATERAL COMMISSION
CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSION
If ever there was a democratic success story, it was written by the Trilateral societies during the quarter-century following World War II. The components of that success included: generally positive and broad-gauged political leadership within individual countries and by the United States for the community of democratic nations; sustained and, for some countries, spectacular economic growth; widespread social and economic amelioration, involving a lessening of class conflict and the assimilation of substantial portions of the population to middle-class values, attitudes, and consumption patterns; and successful resistance, on a collective and individual basis, to the challenges posed externally by Soviet military might and internally by communist party strength.
During these years democratic institutions, mostly of a parliamentary nature, demonstrated their viability in all the Trilateral societies; liberal, conservative, social democratic, and Christian democratic parties competed with each other in regular elections and shared the responsibilities of government and the opportunities for opposition; individual citizens and organized groups participated more actively in the politics of their societies than they had previously; the rights of the citizen against the state became more firmly guaranteed and protected; and new institutions for international collaboration among democratic societies emerged in Europe for economic and political purposes, between North America and Europe for military purposes, and among Europe, North America, and Japan for economic purposes.
This happy congruence of circumstances for democracy has come to an end. The challenges which democratic governments now face are the products of these past successes as well as of the changes in past trends. The incorporation of substantial elements of the population into the middle classes has escalated their expectations and aspirations, thereby causing a more intense reaction if these are not met in reality. Broadened political participation has increased the demands on government. Widespread material well-being has caused a substantial portion of the population, particularly among the young and the "intellectual" professional classes, to adopt new life-styles and new social-political values. Internationally, confrontation has given way to detente, with a resultant relaxation of constraints within societies and of the impetus to collaborate among societies. There has been a substantial relative decline in American military and economic power, and a major absolute decline in American willingness to assume the burdens of leadership. And most recently, the temporary slowdown in economic growth has threatened the expectations created by previous growth, while still leaving existent the "post-bourgeois" values which it engendered among the youth and intellectuals.
Dissatisfaction with and lack of confidence in the functioning of the institutions of democratic government have thus now become widespread in Trilateral countries. Yet with all this dissatisfaction, no significant support has yet developed for any alternative image of how to organize the politics of a highly industrialized society. Before World War II both right-wing and left-wing movements set forth clear-cut political alternatives to the "decadent" institutions of "bourgeois" parliamentary democracy. Today those institutions are accepted even if they are not praised. The active proponents of a different vision of the political order are, by and large, limited to small bands of radical students and intellectuals whose capacity to attract attention through propaganda and terrorism is heavily outweighed by their incapacity to attract support from any significant social groups. In Japan, the 1947 "occupation" Constitution is now accepted as the way in which Japanese politics will be organized for the foreseeable future. In Europe, even the French and Italian communist parties have adapted themselves to the democratic game and at least assert that if admitted to power they will continue to play according to the rules of that game. No significant social or political group in a Trilateral society seriously proposes to replace existing democratic institutions with a nationalist autocracy, the corporate state, or even the dictatorship of the proletariat. The lack of confidence in democratic institutions is clearly exceeded by the lack of enthusiasm for any alternative set of institutions.
What is in short supply in democratic societies today is thus not consensus on the rules of the game but a sense of purpose as to what one should achieve by playing the game. In the past, people have found their purposes in religion, in nationalism, and in ideology. But neither church, nor state, nor class now commands people's loyalties. In some measure, democracy itself was inspired by and its institutions shaped by manifestations of each of these forces and commitments. Protestantism sanctified the individual conscience; nationalism postulated the equality of citizens; and liberalism provided the rationale for limited government based on consent. But now all three gods have failed. We have witnessed the dissipation of religion, the withering away of nationalism, the decline—if not the end—of class-based ideology.
In a nondemocratic political system, the top leadership can select a single purpose or closely related set of goals and, in some measure, induce or coerce political and social forces to shape their behavior in terms of the priorities dictated by these goals. Third World dictatorships can direct their societies towards the "overriding" goal of national development; communist states can mobilize their populace for the task of "building socialism." In a democracy, however, purpose cannot be imposed from on high by fiat; nor does it spring to life from the verbiage of party platforms, state of the union messages, or speeches from the throne. It must, instead, be the product of the collective perception by the significant groups in society of a major challenge to their well-being and the perception by them that this challenge threatens them all about equally. Hence, in wartime or periods of economic catastrophe, common purposes are easily defined. During World War II and then the cold war, there was a general acceptance in the United States of the overriding priority of national security as a goal. In Europe and Japan, after World War II, economic reconstruction and development were supported as goals by virtually all major groups in society. World war, economic reconstruction, and the cold war gave coherence to public purposes and imposed a set of priorities for ordering government policies and programs. Now, however, these purposes have lost their salience and even come under challenge; the imperatives of national security are no longer obvious, the desirability of economic growth is no longer unquestioned.
In this situation, the machinery of democracy continues to operate, but the ability of the individuals operating that machinery to make decisions tends to deteriorate. Without common purpose, there is no basis for common priorities, and without priorities, there are no grounds for distinguishing among competing private interests and claims. Conflicting goals and specialized interests crowd in one upon another, with executives, cabinets, parliaments, and bureaucrats lacking the criteria to discriminate among them. The system becomes one of anomic democracy, in which democratic politics becomes more an arena for the assertion of conflicting interests than a process for the building of common purposes.
Quite apart from the substantive policy issues confronting democratic government, many specific problems have arisen which seem to be an intrinsic part of the functioning of democracy itself. The successful operation of democratic government has given rise to tendencies which impede that functioning.
(1) The pursuit of the democratic virtues of equality and individualism has led to the delegitimation of authority generally and the loss of trust in leadership.
(2) The democratic expansion of political participation and involvement has created an "overload" on government and the imbalanced expansion of governmental activities, exacerbating inflationary tendencies in the economy.
(3) The political competition essential to democracy has intensified, leading to a disaggregation of interests and the decline and fragmentation of political parties.
(4) The responsiveness of democratic government to the electorate and to societal pressures encourages nationalistic parochialism in the way in which democratic societies conduct their foreign relations.
In most of the Trilateral countries in the past decade there has been a decline in the confidence and trust which the people have in government, in their leaders, and, less clearly but most importantly, in each other. Authority has been challenged not only in government, but in trade unions, business enterprises, schools and universities, professional associations, churches, and civic groups. In the past, those institutions which have played the major role in the indoctrination of the young in their rights and obligations as members of society have been the family, the church, the school, and the army. The effectiveness of all these institutions as a means of socialization has declined severely. The stress has been increasingly on individuals and their rights, interests, and needs, and not on the community and its rights, interests, and needs. These attitudes have been particularly prevalent in the young, but they have also appeared in other age groups, especially among those who have achieved professional, white-collar, and middle-class status. The success of the existing structures of authority in incorporating large elements of the population into the middle class, paradoxically, strengthens precisely those groups which are disposed to challenge the existing structures of authority.
The democratic spirit is egalitarian, individualistic, populist, and impatient with the distinctions of class and rank. The spread of that spirit weakens the traditional threats to democracy posed by such groups as the aristocracy, the church, and the military. At the same time, a pervasive spirit of democracy may pose an intrinsic threat and undermine all forms of association, weakening the social bonds which hold together family, enterprise, and community. Every social organization requires, in some measure, inequalities in authority and distinctions in function. To the extent that the spread of the democratic temper corrodes all of these, exercising a leveling and an homogenizing influence, it destroys the bases of trust and cooperation among citizens and creates obstacles to collaboration for any common purpose.
Leadership is in disrepute in democratic societies. Without confidence in its leadership, no group functions effectively. When the fabric of leadership weakens among other groups in society, it is also weakened at the top political levels of government. The governability of a society at the national level depends upon the extent to which it is effectively governed at the subnational, regional, local, functional, and industrial levels. In the modern state, for instance, powerful trade union "bosses" are often viewed as a threat to the power of the state. In actuality, however, responsible union leaders with effective authority over their members are less of a challenge to the authority of the national political leaders than they are a prerequisite to the exercise of authority by those leaders. If the unions are disorganized, if the membership is rebellious, if extreme demands and wild-cat strikes are the order of the day, the formulation and implementation of a national wage policy become impossible. The weakening of authority throughout society thus contributes to the weakening of the authority of government.
Recent years in the Trilateral countries have seen the expansion of the demands on government from individuals and groups. The expansion takes the form of: (1) the involvement of an increasing proportion of the population in political activity; (2) the development of new groups and of new consciousness on the part of old groups, including youth, regional groups, and ethnic minorities; (3) the diversification of the political means and tactics which groups use to secure their ends; (4) an increasing expectation on the part of groups that government has the responsibility to meet their needs; and (5) an escalation in what they conceive those needs to be.
The result is an "overload" on government and the expansion of the role of government in the economy and society. During the 1960s governmental expenditures, as a proportion of GNP, increased significantly in all the principal Trilateral countries, except for Japan. This expansion of governmental activity was attributed not so much to the strength of government as to its weakness and the inability and unwillingness of central political leaders to reject the demands made upon them by numerically and functionally important groups in their society. The impetus to respond to the demands which groups made on government is deeply rooted in both the attitudinal and structural features of a democratic society. The democratic idea that government should be responsive to the people creates the expectation that government should meet the needs and correct the evils affecting particular groups in society. Confronted with the structural imperative of competitive elections every few years, political leaders can hardly do anything else.
Inflation is obviously not a problem which is peculiar to democratic societies, and it may well be the result of causes quite extrinsic to the democratic process. It may, however, be exacerbated by a democratic politics and it is, without doubt, extremely difficult for democratic systems to deal with effectively. The natural tendency of the political demands permitted and encouraged by the dynamics of a democratic system helps governments to deal with the problems of economic recession, particularly unemployment, and it hampers them in dealing effectively with inflation. In the face of the claims of business groups, labor unions, and the beneficiaries of governmental largesse, it becomes difficult if not impossible for democratic governments to curtail spending, increase taxes, and control prices and wages. In this sense, inflation is the economic disease of democracies.
A primary function of politics is to aggregate the various interests in society so as to promote common purposes and to create coalitions behind policies and leaders. In a democratic society this process takes place through complicated processes of bargaining and compromise within government, within and between the political parties, and through electoral competition. The multiple sources of power in a democratic society insure that any policy decision, when it is made, usually has to have at least the tacit support of a majority of those affected by and concerned with it. In this sense, consensus-building is at the heart of democratic politics. At the same time, however, the opportunities which democratic politics offers to particular opinions, interests, and groups to be represented in the political process necessarily tend to stimulate the formulation and articulation of such opinions, interests, and groups. While the common interest is in compromise and consensus, it is often beneficial to the particular individual or group to differentiate its interest from other interests, to assert that interest vigorously, and at times to be intransigent in defending that interest against others. In a democracy, in short, the top political leaders work to aggregate interests; the political process often works to disaggregate them.
The most obvious political manifestation of the disaggregation of interests and the withering away of common purposes is in the decomposition which has affected the political party systems in Trilateral societies. In almost every country the support for the principal established political parties has declined, and new parties, small parties, and antiparty movements have gained in strength. At one time or another during 1974, no party had a majority in the legislatures of Great Britain, Canada, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. And the functional equivalent to the lack of a majority existed in the United States with different parties in control of the executive and legislative branches of the government. This failure of the party system to produce electoral and parliamentary majorities obviously had adverse effects on the ability of governments to govern.
A party system is a way of organizing the electorate, simplifying choice, selecting leaders, aggregating interests, and shaping policy choices and priorities. The development of political parties in the nineteenth century went hand-in-hand with the expansion of the suffrage and the increased responsibility of governments to their citizens. Parties made democratic government possible. Throughout the twentieth century, the strength of democracy has varied with the strength of the political parties committed to working within a democratic system. The decay of political party systems in the industrialized world poses the question: How viable is democratic government without parties or with greatly weakened and attenuated parties?
Just as the opportunities afforded by the democratic process tended to increase the strength and assertiveness of particularistic groups domestically, so they also tended to encourage a greater degree of parochialism in international affairs.
The seeming decline in the external military threat produced a general slackening of concern throughout the Trilateral countries with the problems of security. In the absence of a clear and present danger to security, it is very difficult to mobilize support within a democracy for measures which may be necessary to provide for security. In the European and North American countries, compulsory military service has been reduced or abandoned entirely; military expenditures have declined in real terms and relative to national product; antimilitarism has become the vogue in intellectual and political circles. Yet detente presumably rests upon the achievement of a rough military balance between the communist powers and the democracies. During the 1960s the military exertions of the communist powers brought such a balance into being and hence made detente feasible. During the 1970s military passivity on the part of the democracies could well undermine that balance and hence the basis for improved relations with the communist states.
By and large, the quarter-century after World War II saw a removal of restrictions on trade and investment, and a general opening up of the economies of the industrialized, capitalist countries. In times of economic scarcity, inflation, and possible long-term economic downturn, however, the pressures in favor of nationalism and neo-mercantilism mount and democratic political systems find themselves particularly vulnerable to such pressures from industry groups, localities, and labor organizations, which see themselves adversely affected by foreign competition. The ability of governments to deal with domestic social and economic problems is reduced, as well as the confidence people have that legislatures will be able to deal with those problems. As a result, the leaders of democratic governments turn increasingly to foreign policy as the one arena where they can achieve what appear to be significant successes. Diplomatic triumph becomes essential to the maintenance of domestic power; success abroad produces votes at home. Heath and the Common Market, Brandt and the Moscow treaties, Nixon in Peking and SALT I, and Pompidou in challenging American leadership may or may not have done the best in terms of securing the long-term interests of their countries, but their domestic political needs left them little leeway not to come up with something. At the same time, the impact of inflation and domestic special interests engenders economic nationalism increasing the difficulties of cooperative action among the democratic powers. Given these pressures, the extent to which the democratic societies have been able to avoid the worst forms of beggar-thy-neighbor policies and devise some common responses to the economic and energy crises is, in many respects, quite remarkable. Yet the impact of domestic politics still leads democratic leaders to display greater eagerness to compromise when negotiating with their enemies and to have greater difficulty in compromising when they negotiate with each other.
While the processes of democratic politics induce governmental leaders to look abroad for victories to sustain them at home, those same processes also tend to produce a tendency towards greater provincialism and nationalism in their outlook. The parochialization of leadership is surely one of the most striking trends of the past decade in the Trilateral democracies. Down through the early 1960s, leading statesmen in the democratic countries not only had (as was a prerequisite to statesmanship) a standing among their own people, but they also often had an appeal and a standing abroad among people in the other industrialized democracies. They were, in a sense, Trilateral statesmen as well as national statesmen. The resignation of Willy Brandt, however, removed from the scene the last of the democratic leaders who had a stature, a reputation, and a following that transcended his own society. This is not to say that the current leaders are necessarily narrowly nationalistic in their outlook and policies. It does mean, however, that they are the product of peculiarly national processes and that whatever their qualities as leaders, the names of Gerald Ford, Takeo Miki, Harold Wilson, Giscard d'Estaing, and Helmut Schmidt do not inspire enthusiasm and commitment outside their own societies.
The features we have described above are found in all three Trilateral regions. The relative intensity of the different aspects of the problem varies, however, from country to country and from time to time within a country. The overall legitimacy of government is greater in Britain than in Italy. Confidence and trust in political institutions and leaders in the United States was much less during the 1960s and early 1970s than it was in the 1940s and 1950s and very probably considerably less than it will be during the coming years. The differing cultures and political traditions of the various countries means that each problem concerning the governability of democracy manifests itself in different ways and has to be dealt with by different means. Each country has its own peculiar strengths and weaknesses. In continental Europe and in Japan, for instance, there is a tradition of a strong and effective bureaucracy, in part because of the polarization and fragmentation among political parties. This bureaucracy furnishes continuity and stability to the system, functioning in some ways as both a gyroscope and an automatic pilot. In Britain and the United States, on the other hand, there are strong traditions of citizen participation in politics which insure the vitality of democracy at the same time that they may lower the competence and authority of government. If one were to generalize, one might say that the problem in the United States is more one of governability than of democracy, in Japan it is more one of democracy than of governability, while in Europe both problems are acute.
The demands on government and the needs for government have been increasing steadily in all the Trilateral societies. The cause of the current malaise is the decline in the material resources and political authority available to government to meet these demands and needs. These deficiencies vary significantly, however, from region to region. In the United States, the government is constrained more by the shortage of authority than by the shortage of resources. In Japan, the government has so far been favored with a huge increase in resources due to rapid economic growth, and it has been able to utilize the reservoir of traditional acquiescence among the people to support its authority. The growth in resources, however, is about to stop, and the reservoir of acquiescence is more and more draining down. In Europe, governments seem to be facing shortages of both authority and resources, which is the major reason why the problems concerning the governability of democracy are more urgent in Europe than in the other Trilateral regions.
At the moment the principal strains on the governability of democracy may be receding in the United States, cresting in Europe, and pending in the future for Japan. During the 1960s, the United States went through a period of creedal passion, of intense conflict over racial issues and the Indochina War, and of marked expansion in the extent and forms of political participation. In addition, in the 1970s the United States suffered a major constitutional crisis in the whole complex of issues involved in Watergate and the resignation of the President. At present, much of the passion and intensity has departed from American politics, leaving the political leadership and institutions with the problem of attempting to redefine their functions in altered circumstances, to restore the prestige and authority of central government institutions, and to grapple with the immediate economic challenges. Japan, on the other hand, appears to still have some time before the major challenges to democracy will come to a head, which they probably will in the early 1980s. Its organizational fabric and patterns of social control, moreover, provide advantages in giving control and direction to the new political forces and demands on government. This gain in time will give the existing democratic institutions in Japan opportunity to consolidate themselves further and will permit the party leaders in all the major parties to adapt to a situation in which the Liberal Democratic party no longer commands a secure majority.
Europe, in contrast, has to face current issues which make it the most vulnerable of the three regions at the present time. It must make long-term investments quickly inasmuch as it will not be able to handle its problems with the current resources it has available. In addition, it must maintain tight enough control over short-run issues since it has to face a crisis from within as well as a crisis from without.