Section 1


Democratic Institutions and Processes

Democracy in the United States and other industrialized nations faces daunting challenges. These problems are rooted in the rapid pace of technological and demographic change. Responding effectively to these challenges is complicated by the forces of globalization as well as by a radical transformation of the political milieu. Many mature democracies now function within a milieu that hampers rather than facilitates the ability of government to respond to contemporary problems decisively, coherently, and in a manner consistent with democratic values.

The latter half of the 20th century witnessed a proliferation of well-funded, ideologically narrow special interest groups, which forged an unhealthy political stalemate that now prevents cohesive responses to multifaceted problems. Contributing to this stalemate has been the rise of political parties and institutions that are polarized ideologically and a media that has adopted an increasingly aggressive, hostile posture in its coverage of politics.

A consequence of this stalemate is that the emergence of visionary political leaders who will champion core democratic values and principles is impeded. Most modern political leaders are more preoccupied with poll results and fundraising than with enlightened stewardship. Nor have these leaders demonstrated the courage necessary to promote structural changes designed to better realize democratic ideals.

The results of these developments are crises of government and public confidence that threaten the long-term viability of mature democracies. Ironically, these crises of confidence are occurring just as much of the developing world is embracing democracy. The global implications of this situation makes it imperative that established democracies succeed in finding ways to better realize democratic values and principles in governmental operations.

Consequently, the objectives of the Program on Democratic Institutions and Processes are threefold: (1) to sponsor research targeted at evaluating the operations of democratic governments in light of core democratic values and principles; (2) to generate ongoing dialogues between democracy scholars and reform-minded citizens, organizations, and public officials; and (3) to disseminate the results of its findings and conclusions widely.

Intellectual leadership in this area is provided by Professor Scott Althaus. See current projects under this program.