Introducing Hard Questions for Democracy

Trinity College Dublin, Ireland

In December 2008, Girvin and Murphy edited a significant issue of Irish Political Studies in which contributors analysed continuity, crisis and change in Ireland, focusing on developments during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. In many ways, this issue builds on their insights, but in the context of a very changed Ireland. The country – indeed, the world – now finds itself questioning many aspects of democratic development in the second decade of the 2000s given the recent  financial and economic crisis.


In fact the raison d’etre of this special issue is based on the recent global crisis, the effects of which have been deeply felt, especially in small states in world markets: the crisis has caused students of Irish and comparative politics to ask some hard questions about how democracy has evolved. Some of these are old questions with new answers; others are new questions with both old and new answers.


The underlying theme of Hard Questions for Democracy is whether democracy as it was originally conceived in Ireland and the world can live up to people’s expectations in modern times. That is, can democracy function democratically in the twenty-first century?


With this in mind, the objectives of this special issue are to address hard questions about the theoretical, institutional, policy, partisan, participatory and confiictive aspects of democracy that are so relevant today.


The issue is subdivided into five main thematic sections, where each paper in each section addresses specific hard questions. The first section is ‘democracy and legitimacy’, where Hyland starts by exploring the roots of democratic legitimacy and questions if democracy is really the most desirable form of government. Mackie then ponders what the values of democratic proceduralism are.


The second section considers ‘democracy and the markets’, focusing on institutions and policymakers. In the first of two ‘back-to-back’ papers, Bernhagen and Chari ask which theoretical explanations from the political science literature are useful in understanding why the global financial and economic crisis that started in 2007 occurred. Chari and Bernhagen then evaluate which of these theoretical explanations are of more value in understanding, more specifically, the crisis starting in 2008 in Ireland.


The third section focuses on ‘democracy, political parties and voters’, offering five papers. First, Laver asks why vote-seeking parties may make voters miserable. Brandenburg then reflects on what factors give politics such a bad name. Humphreys questions how much of a constraint compactness places on would-be gerrymanderers.


McElroy and Marsh then consider whether or not women’s under-representation in Irish politics can be explained by voter bias, or be understood in the recruitment practices of parties and supply-side issues. Gallagher closes by asking whether referendums weaken parties and constitute a threat to liberal democracies such as Ireland.


The fourth section highlights issues related to ‘democracy and participation’. Situating the Irish case in comparative perspective, Honohan contemplates whether or not Irish emigrants should have votes. Sudulich then asks whether or not the Internet promotes increased political participation in Ireland.


The final section examines ‘democracy, violence and conflict’. McKeogh questions whether or not citizens of a democracy can be considered ‘just targets’ for terrorists. Focusing on the Irish Republican movement, O’Boyle finishes by asking how those who have been politically violent ultimately become democrats.


In addressing significant hard questions, leading academics and rising stars from around the globe are brought together, many of whom have been students or colleagues of Eddie Hyland, whose ‘hard questions’ during seminars and presentations have always proved to be the toughest to answer. In this tradition, the work presented here is envisaged to provide social scientists with both a basis for reflection and a foundation to pursue novel work.