Los Angeles Times

Commentary: A century of surviving crises left democracy overconfident and vulnerable

We could be in the midst of the beginning of the end of democracy as we know it. Or we could just be in another of those eek-yikes crises that democracy has always managed to triumph over in the last reel. So far. David Runciman is a professor at Cambridge University; his book "The Confidence Trap, a History of Democracy in Crisis from World War I to the Present" predates the 2016 Brexit vote and Trump election but presupposes the challenges to the strength of democracy that both of those pose. Unlike the crises of the past century - the end of World War I, the Depression, the Cold War and others - democracy's present stresses are created by democracy itself. And the outcome this time might be very different.

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Q: What got you writing about the fragility and overconfidence of democracies?

A: It came out of the financial crisis of 2007-2008. What started me thinking about it was we'd been through the first decade of this century where there'd been terrible events like 9/11, but democracy was in pretty good shape.

And yet we spent most of that time thinking it was going wrong. When something really bad happened, are we equipped? And the decade since the financial crisis, I think, has just made that problem more acute.

The big problem in a democracy is we never know how bad it is. We've just got no measure for judging how much trouble we're in.

Q: Isn't that the

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