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Failure is seldom fatal

David Runciman believes that democracy's great strength is its adaptability, but autocracies can prove equally flexible

By Ferdinand Mount   January 2014

An American political cartoon (1899) showing the Earth brushing away Monarchy to make way for democratically elected government

The Confidence Trap: A History of Democracy in Crisis from World War I to the Present by David Runciman (Princeton, £19.95)

“If we go on at this rate, the nation must be ruined,” said Sir John Sinclair in 1777. He had brought the news of General Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga to his hero Adam Smith. Sinclair was a humourless beanpole of a man, an obsessive statistician who wrote wagonloads of pamphlets on…

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