Democracy in the 21st century is exhibiting some radical discontinuities in terms of its forms and institutions and needs to be rethought, if we wish to have a sustainable future. Democracy increasingly will be shaped by three realities: the demise of the nation state; the failure of representational liberal democracy; and the radical impacts of resource insufficiency and climate change. Yet if no government, however tyrannical, survives for long except by consent of the people, then that consent can serve as the starting point for rethinking what is meant by “democracy.” Three terms are offered as functional categories that allow for an assessment of democratic forms and institutions: subsistence, operational and systemic. Each describes how and why the population acquiesces to governance and under what conditions.
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