The new executive politics: a democratic challenge

The new executive politics: a democratic challenge

The institutional balance within modern democratic systems is disturbed and dysfunctional. Some of the unhappiness of citizens in many a western state about their political leaders’ remoteness, corruption, or lack of accountability can be understood as a thwarted recognition of this problem. This an old history. But there are specific features in the current alignments that we can trace back to the type of political economy that has dominated since the 1980s. The financial meltdown of 2007-09, has generated a bit of a crisis in this model, and with it the ground might be laid for reforms that address it.

The heart of the issue is what has come to be the overweening power of the executive branch in contemporary democracies, and the corresponding loss of power by the legislature. In this sense those who argue that the major task for parliaments is to strengthen their capacity to demand accountability from the executive branch are right. This is indeed a critical issue.

The growing power of the executive branch is often attributed to contingent circumstances such as a response to national-security threats and abuses of power by particular leaders. But there is a deeper process at work that begins in the 1980s with the implementation of neo-liberal policies across historic left-right political divides. It is, in fact, part of the structural evolution of the liberal state (see Territory, Authority, and Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages [Princeton University Press, 2006]). These structural conditions make the issue even more worrisome for the future of democracy.


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