1975: The Crisis of Democracy


Is democracy in crisis? This question is being posed with increasing urgency by some of the leading statesmen of the West, by columnists and scholars, and—if public opinion polls are to be trusted—even by the publics. In some respects, the mood of today is reminiscent of that of the early twenties, when the views of Oswald Spengler regarding „The Decline of the West“ were highly popular.


This pessimism is echoed, with obvious Schadenfreude, by various communist observers, who speak with growing confidence of „the general crisis of capitalism“ and who see in it the confirmation of their own theories.


The report which follows is not a pessimistic document. Its authors believe that, in a fundamental sense, the democratic systems are viable. They believe, furthermore, that democracies can work provided their publics truly understand the nature of the democratic system, and particularly if they are sensitive to the subtle interrelationship between liberty and responsibility. Their discussion of „The Crisis of Democracy“ is designed to make democracy stronger as it grows and becomes more and more democratic. Their conclusions-doubtless in some respects provocative—are designed to serve that overriding objective.

The Trilateral Commission decided to undertake this project because it has felt, rightly in my view, that the vitality of our political systems is a central precondition for the shaping of a stable international order and for the fashioning of more cooperative relations among our regions. Though very much concerned with issues pertaining to foreign affairs, trilateral as well as East-West and North-South, the Trilateral Commission has promoted the study which follows in the belief that at this juncture it is important for the citizens of our democracies to reexamine the basic premises and the workings of our systems. This rethinking can contribute, it is our hope, to the promotion of the central purposes of the democratic system of government: the combination of personal liberty with the enhancement of social progress.

This report has been prepared for the Trilateral Commission and is released under its auspices. The Commission is making the report available for wider distribution as a contribution to informed discussion and handling of the issues treated. The report was discussed at the Trilateral Commission meetings in Kyoto, Japan, on May 30-31, 1975.


The authors, who are experts from North America, Western Europe and Japan, have been free to present their own views. The report is the joint responsibility of the three rapporteurs of the Trilateral Commission’s Task Force on the Governability of Democracies, which was set up in the spring of 1974 and which submitted its report in the spring of 1975.

The chapter on Japan is the work of Joji Watanuki. The chapter on Western Europe is the work of Michel Crozier. The chapter on the United States is the work of Samuel P. Huntington.

Although only the three authors are responsible for the analysis and conclusions, they were aided in their task by consultations with experts from the trilateral regions. In each case, consultants spoke for themselves as individuals and not as representatives of any institutions with which they are associated. Those consulted included the following:

  • Robert R. Bowie, Professor of International Affairs,Harvard University
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski, Director, The Trilateral Commission
  • James Cornford, Professor of Politics, University ofEdinburgh
  • George S. Franklin, North American Secretary, The Trilateral Commission
  • Donald M. Fraser, United States House ofRepresentatives
  • Karl Kaiser, Director, Research Institute of the German Society for Foreign Policy
  • Seymour Martin Lipset, Professor of Sociology, Harvard University
  • John Meisel, Professor of Political Science, Queen’s University
  • Erwin Scheuch, Professor of Political Science, University ofCologne
  • Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Professor of Humanities, The City University of New York
  • Gerard C. Smith, North American Chairman, The Trilateral Commission
  • Yasumasa Tanaka, Professor of Political Science, Gakushuin University
  • Tadashi Yamamoto, Japanese Secretary, The Trilateral Commission

In the course of its work, the task force held a number of joint meetings:

  • April 20-21, 1974—Rapporteurs and Brzezinski met in Palo Alto, California, to develop general outline of report.
  • November 11-12, 1974-Rapporteurs and Brzezinski met in London to consider first drafts of regional chapters and establish more precise outline of study.
  • February 22-23, 1975—Rapporteurs met with experts from Trilateral regions in New York City, considered second drafts of regional chapters and draft of Introduction.
  • May 31, 1975—Full draft of study debated in plenary meeting of The Trilateral Commission in Kyoto.

I would like to express our appreciation for the energy and dedication shown by Charles Heck and Gertrude Werner in preparing this book for publication.

Zbigniew Brzezinski    
Director The Trilateral Commission