Is democracy as we know it in danger? More and more we confront one another as aggrieved groups rather than as free citizens. Deepening cynicism, the growth of corrosive individualism, statism, and the loss of civil society are warning signs that democracy may be incapable of satisfying the yearnings it itself unleashes -- yearnings for freedom, fairness, and equality.
In her 1993 CBC Massey Lectures, political philosopher Jean Bethke Elshtain delves into these complex issues to evaluate democracy's chances for survival
``We are in danger of losing democractic civil society,'' warns Elshtain (Women and War), who teaches ethics at the University of Chicago, and the danger comes not from any foreign power but from ourselves. In five brief chapters that began as a lecture series, she offers stimulating but somewhat sketchy and discursive observations from a perspective unconstrained by ideology. Elshtain laments the fragmentation of family and community, criticizing both Left and Right for shortsighted solutions. She observes that leaving controversial decisions like abortion to the courts rather than public debate leads to ``a politics of resentment.'' The ``collapse of the personal into the political,'' she argues, provokes excesses in the way women claim victimization and gays claim government sanction. She deplores a multiculturalism that brings about identity politics rather than critical reflection. Elshtain believes in democracy's promise, citing examples from the American civil rights movement and dissidents in Argentina and Eastern Europe; we must engage such traditions, she concludes, to address our deficits and pursue our ideals.