Some would argue it is its proneness to to create chaotic and unstable parliamentary situations, resulting in fragile and inefficient governments. Examples of this phenomenon hardly need to be mentioned; we have seen it happening over and over again, in Southern, Western and Northern European countries. Here we have been more or less obliged to learn the truly democratic art of making compromises, some nations being more, some less successful in this respect.
But this is, after all, a minor issue. Rather there is another aspect of democracy, the way we know it historically, that ought to cause us deeper worries. I am thinking of democracy’s intrinsic capacity – and full mandate – to abolish itself. We saw this happen in Germany in 1933, when democracy together with the very parliamentary system as such was annihilated immediately upon the victory of the Nazis. Hitler did not overthrow democracy in Germany by military force; he did it by utilizing democracy’s suicide clause. And in our days we have seen it happen, or being subsequently happening, in countries like Russia, Hungary, Poland, Turkey and elsewhere, resulting in a system that is democratic in scantily more than a cosmetic sense. Most likely we might also see this happening in the USA as well, in case it will be a second Trumpist presidential term there, by means of a revered constitution that obviously keeps itself wide-open to almost any kind of legal and political manipulations.
Germany has its “Verfassungsschutz”, but this apparently does not prevent political forces with a clear anti-democratic agenda to approach, little by little, governmental power. As a German liberal politician said years ago: “Fascists usually change their uniform about every tenth year – but nowadays they appear in dark suit, white shirt and tie.”
I do not claim to being in possession of an answer to this initial question – whether it be possible or not to deliver, on a permanent basis, democracy from its suicide clause. Putting up a series of basic values and principles to be adhered to as a prerequisite before being allowed to participate in the democratic process would of course be a contradictio in adjecto. At the same time, democracy paving the way for autocracy and totalitarianism is also, quite obviously, a contradictio in adjecto.
Maybe we have to accept democracy in its fragility, in its lack of any kind of institutional or legal insurance. Maybe we have to regard it, not as a system at all, but as a mindset, shared by many, expressed by many, lived by many, promoted by many, manifested by many in their attitude to fellow human beings.
The rest be hope and prayer.