The world has already moved on since A. C. Grayling published his wake up call about our democracy. In particular, Putin and Zelensky (not working together!) have given democracy a shot in the arm. But some of the problems don't change.

There has been a persistent supposition made about the general public in the criticisms of democracy Grayling discusses - from Plato to Jason Brennan - I reckon should be challenged. That is the idea that most common people are incorrigeably short term in their thinking and moods.

In fact, the evidence from voting behaviour in elections indicates that long term factors (not necessarily long term thinking) are most important, and often decisive. Instead, the problem with lack of long term and strategic thinking in representative democracies emerges at the level of the political class (and commentators) themselves. The very idea of representatives charged with taking care of the interests of the people (rather than themselves) requires terms of office to be limited - typically in a range from two to six or seven years. Such term limits naturally focus politicians, and even their officials, on the coming election rather than what follows it. (Attention to the latter tends to take the form of promises or aspirations that may or may not be realistic.)

This is a massive problem for democracies in 21st century conditions where almost all the major challenges we face, from ageing populations to security to climate change to artificial intelligence, and many others, call out for strategic thinking over periods of decades (at least). A combination of ideological polarisation and limited office terms makes such thinking very hard to come by or maintain. 

In principle, some form of more direct democracy relying less on representatives might be an answer if the problems with that (some of which Grayling alludes to) could be overcome.


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