Democracy as an ecosystem

Marvellous Guardian OpEd by Rafael Behr. Here’s the nub of it:

Inability to accept that truth and justice operate independently from the person who wields power is the essence of Trump’s unfitness for office. It is what makes him not just intellectually incapable of doing the job, but morally hostile to American political tradition. Elections, parliaments and courts are the necessary apparatus of democracy. But, as I witnessed in Chechnya, they can be quickly assembled in flatpack form. Russia’s constitution promises political rights that have no bearing on Vladimir Putin’s governing methods. The 1936 Soviet constitution guaranteed elections and a free press. It did not inhibit Stalin’s atrocities.

Democracy can be enshrined in words but it thrives through an accumulated culture and habit of honouring those words. It is an ecosystem, like a coral reef that is marvellous not just because of its solid structures but because of the diverse flora and fauna they host – the competition for resources, the interaction of predator and prey, all sustained in delicate equilibrium.

Spot on. Reminds me of something Ralf Dahrendorf wrote in 1989 in Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, where he talked about democracy being a pretty fragile plant which grows only in certain, well-prepared soils.