I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Saving Democracy

John Horgan
How Democracy Ends. by David Runciman. Profile Books. 256 pp, £14.99, ISBN: 978-178125 9740 This book is not intended as a guide to Irish politics, but in some important respects it is as useful a road-map as we are ever likely to get. This is because it analyses the priorities and the thought processes of political activism generally with insights that are universally applicable and – perforce – radically challenging. It is also – as someone once said about Shakespeare – full of quotations. I don’t mean that Runciman’s words have been pillaged from elsewhere, but that his gift for an insightful turn of phrase, enhanced by his lapidary use of the short sentence, creates prose that demands attention without ever lapsing into the facile or the doctrinaire. A few examples, chosen literally at random: Twitter is not a viable way of doing politics. At best it offers a feeble imitation of democracy, in which people get to vent their frustrations without having to face up to the consequences. All corporations have an off switch. The state knows where to find it. Or at least it used to. The question is not whether a democratic society would embrace a nuclear apocalypse: nobody in his right mind would vote for that. It is whether a democratic society still had the power to stop it. The relevance of the final quotation is underlined by recent disclosures about how the extraordinary power of the president of the United States has been on a number of very recent occasions secretly and indeed probably unconstitutionally subverted by some of his aides who were more alert to the possible consequences of his shoot-from-the-hip style than he is himself. Runciman’s analysis of the ways in which societies of all kinds stumble through their decision-making processes, of the failures associated with the trend away from democracy towards “competitive authoritarianism”, and of “the myth that things always get better” is powerful. It is illuminated not only by insights garnered from his own professional work, but by a powerful and eclectic array of sources. Also useful is his five-page suggestion of sources for further reading. The entirely valid sub-text For my money, however, Runciman’s penultimate chapter, “Something better?” (note the question mark) is the key to his thinking and, like all attempted answers to complicated questions, is itself thought-provoking and eschews quick-fix solutions. In particular it underlines his thesis that…



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