Philip Coggan's "wake-up call" to the voters with unrealistic demandsby Jonathan Derbyshire / August 21, 2013 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2013 issue of Prospect Magazine
The Last Vote by Philip Coggan (Allen Lane, £20) There are certain problems that any democratic system will face when it tries to aggregate the preferences of individual voters. As Philip Coggan points out in his new book, no voting system yet devised has ever achieved an ideal balance between the will of the majority and the rights of minorities. Such difficulties are as old as democracy itself. But, Coggan argues, western democracies today confront additional threats more severe than any they have faced since before the Second World War. In the United States, a combination of congressional gridlock and lobbying by powerful interest groups frustrates even the hardiest legislative ambitions. Meanwhile, in Europe, the crisis in the eurozone has given rise to all manner of morbid symptoms. And on both sides of the Atlantic, voter turnout and party membership are in steep and apparently inexorable decline. The Last Vote is not an argument against democracy; it is a “wake-up call.” Coggan is a very English Cassandra: the picture he paints is, he admits with winning understatement, “quite alarming.” Part of the problem, he believes, is us—that is, the voters. We expect democracy to be fair, affordable and to stimulate economic growth. But in the current circumstances it is impossible to meet all those demands (if it ever was). It’s time, Coggan concludes, that we acknowledged the trade-offs that democratic politics involves. This might not be an especially inspiring message, but it is at least an honest one.