Anxieties of democracy

Is representative democracy in crisis? If so, in what ways and how is it possible to strengthen it?

This project will investigate in what ways representative democracy may be said to be in crisis, to explain why this is so, and to suggest solutions as to how representative democracy could be strengthened.

One of humanity’s most important political inventions, representative democracy has proven remarkably successful over the last century or so. As Dahlberg et. al. (2015, p. 18) note, representative democracy ‘has more or less become the only legitimate means to gain political power, and surveys from all parts of the world show that democracy as a political regime is endorsed by large majorities of citizens in most societies, democratic as well as authoritarian’. Yet, in spite of this success, there is a growing concern that representative democracy faces a crisis. While the idea of representative democracy continues to enjoy strong support, a growing number of people are dissatisfied with the performance of democratic systems, with problems occurring both on the input and output side of the democratic system (Dalton 2004; Norris 2011). On the input side, there are worries as to how representative or responsive the political system is to the public’s preferences. On the output side, the statistical case for democracies enhancing ordinary people’s lives is surprisingly weak (Holmberg & Rothstein 2011), and representative democracies have proven themselves incapable of solving problems like climate change, fiscal debt, and growing wealth and income inequality.

The purpose is to develop an international network of outstanding scholars and academic environments working on contemporary challenges for representative democracy. During 2017 and 2018 groups and individuals working on theoretical and practical problems of representative democracy will be connected through four workshops.

The themes of the workshops will be:

  1. Explaining differences in the performance of democracies
  2. Representing future people
  3. Retrospective accountability
  4. The Future of Political Parties



Principal Investigator

Bo Rothstein August Röhss’ Professor in Political Science

Project members

Gustaf Arrhenius Director and Professor, Practical Philosophy

External project members


The Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences