Since 2008, “crisis” has become a buzzword, while an overarching declinist mood has contaminated public discourse. In his 2012 book The Great Degeneration—How Institutions Decay and Economies Die, British historian Niall Ferguson described the decline of those institutions that constitute Western society: representative democracy, free market economy, rule of law, and civil society. Is his view justifiable, or should we expect the contrary—that existing institutions will grow ever stronger as a consequence of the crisis of recent years? How effective and shock-resistant are these institutions?
In this issue of Aspen Review Central Europe, you will find articles dealing with these crises from a variety of perspectives. What kind of institutions do we have in mind? How trusted are the political parties as institutions fundamental to representative democracy, the judiciary as a guardian of rule of law, the regulatory bodies, and the institutions of corporate governance? Are they immune to the epidemic of public mistrust?
Frank Furedi recognizes the shift to a more technocratic and managerial style of governance as one of the predominant factors contributing to the rapid decline of trust in public institutions. Consequently, taking political or decision-making responsibility has become a risky venture. Yet resorting to populism does not result in stronger or trustworthier institutions. In his article, Jan-Werner Müller paints a dark picture of how combining technocratic and populist styles of governance can produce more vices than it promised to eradicate.
Marek Cichocki argues that the EU— an impressive legal creation based on delicate institutional balance and political leadership— must regain credibility. However, it will not achieve that by repeating the mantra of “more Europe.” We must acknowledge the increased dynamics of democratic change, not just in Poland, but elsewhere in Europe, or the European project will face a legitimacy crisis. To single out Central Europe as “barbarian” misses the point. We will return to this question of old-new European dichotomies in our next issue.
The thematic articles in this issue are topical as they reflect the intention to broaden the scope of our annual flagship event entitled “Czech Republic: The Shape We’re In.” This year, we plan to assess the quality of governance, rule of law, and education in the Czech Republic through a manner similar to last year, when we evaluated economic performance, quality of life, and security. Stay tuned to Aspen Institute Prague!
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