In This Review

Disaffected Democracies: What's Troubling the Trilateral Countries?
Disaffected Democracies: What's Troubling the Trilateral Countries?
Edited by Susan J. Aharr and Robert D. Putnam
Princeton University Press, 2000, 360 pp

The Trilateral Commission famously warned 25 years ago that slow growth, rising inflation, social decay, and bloated government were putting democratic institutions in the industrialized world at risk. In this important new study, leading scholars revisit the issue and discover disturbing trends. Happily, this time there is no evidence of declining support for democracy. But the authors do discern a gradual waning of public confidence in political leaders, parties, and institutions. Pharr and Putnam argue that this dissatisfaction stems from disappointment in politics and government performance rather than economic malaise or the Cold War's end. But as Pharr points out, the Japanese people's declining confidence in government could in fact galvanize reform of democratic institutions. These chapters are complemented by empirically rich accounts by European, Japanese, and American specialists that discuss changing public attitudes toward government and their national variations. For instance, Peter Katzenstein argues that small European states, with their generous social welfare programs and inclusive political regimes, have lost the least amount of public confidence. The picture that emerges is of an advanced industrial world in transition. But the destination -- whether dangerously dysfunctional polities or renewed political participation -- is still unknown.