Jackson Lears in The Nation:
The word “democracy” has been bruised and beaten during the last few centuries. It has been pressed into the service of dictators and demagogues, of dewy-eyed imperialists and utopian prophets of consumer sovereignty. It has been routinely used to endow power grabs with an aura of righteousness and to recast the pursuit of particular economic interests as a defense of universal principles. After all the ill use, there are gray moments when democracy seems to be more of a phantom than a foundation.
David Runciman is not discouraged. In The Confidence Trap, he returns to the project pioneered by Alexis de Tocqueville: to take democracy seriously as a description of actual societies rather than a mere slogan. Apart from a few such outliers as India and Japan, the societies in question are nearly all in Western Europe and North America, with the United States getting the most attention and standing in, much of the time, for democracy in general.
In Runciman’s view, democratic societies seem to lurch from one crisis to another, without ever thoroughly addressing the problems that caused them, but also without ever (well, hardly ever) collapsing altogether. The explanation for this pattern, he decides, depends on Tocqueville’s insight that faith is “the lynchpin of American democracy”—faith in the survival and ultimate triumph of democracy, everywhere.