Curing the democratic malaise with democratic innovations

There are different views about the origins and causes of the democratic malaise, discussed briefly at the start of this Introduction. One school of thought lays blame at the feet of ordinary citizens. Dating from Plato’s belief that only philosopher kings were fit to rule, and running through the entire span of western history to modern research, it claims that large proportions of the population are unable or unwilling to play their proper citizen role because they are too ignorant, lazy or stupid. According to this approach, the democratic malaise is mainly the result of the input or bottom-up failure of the electorate to perform its citizenship role.

There is a different explanation that focuses not on the role of citizens, but on the top-down importance ofleaders, political processes and democratic institutions. This school claims that citizens are more likely to support their system of government if they believe it is open and fair and protects civil liberties, if it performs well, if politicians are accountable and not corrupt, and if the system accommodates their most important interests. According to this approach, democratic malaise is as much the result of top-down, output factors associated with the performance of political leaders and institutions, as it is of bottom-up, input factors associated with the shortcomings of voters and citizens (Newton 2006; Keele 2007).

According to the citizen-centred, input theory, democratic innovation should concentrate on educating and informing citizens, and encouraging them to play a more active role in political life. According to the top-down, output approach, innovations should focus on political structures and processes, particularly on the institutions of democratic government that regulate the behaviour and performance of politicians and make them more accountable and responsive to the general public.2

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