17 May 2018

South Africa: Why the Very DNA of Most Modern Democracies Is Authoritarian in Nature


The South African Constitution has long been considered something of a political miracle - a symbol of racial reconciliation; a road map for a progressive and socially inclusive democracy. An essential new book, called 'Authoritarianism and the Elite Origins of Democracy', can help South Africans think their way through current assaults on the bedrock of local democracy. It is not a pretty read, but its findings are at least as important as Thomas Picketty's 'Capital in the 21st Century' in terms of (re)framing our understanding of the crises currently facing governments the world over.

'So the less said here concerning the ultimate nature of possible worlds and supermassive black holes in this our Godforsaken twenty-first century, the better.'

-- Susan Howe

South Africans, even some of the smarter ones, tend to think of the origins of our constitutional democracy as an exceptional event, undertaken in splendid isolation, entirely outside the global flow of history. But nope. Parochialism has blinded many of us to the fact that following the fall of the Berlin Wall, an orgy of democratisation was under way across the world, much of it promulgated under similar circumstances. No two authoritarians fell in quite the...

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