- The Western Allies 50 Years Later
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War. A year ago, jumping the gun a bit, we published a set of articles on the state of democracy in the former Axis powers almost a half-century after their defeat by the Western democracies and the Soviet Union. In introducing that series, we highlighted the remarkable success of democracy in postwar Japan, Germany, and Italy, but noted that each of these countries was facing critical new challenges as a consequence of the end of the Cold War. (As for the Soviet Union, of course, the end of the Cold War coincided with its demise, and we have published numerous articles—including two in this issue—about the struggle to establish democracy in its successor states.)
In turning our attention for the first time to the Western Allies, we cannot point to domestic changes of the magnitude of reunification in Germany or the transformations of the party and electoral systems under way in Japan and Italy. Neither the United States nor Britain nor France is experiencing a decisive shift in its party system or political institutions, let alone a crisis of democracy. Yet all three of these venerable democracies seem to be afflicted by a certain gnawing political dissatisfaction even as they bask in the glories of their splendid victory in 1945 and their no less momentous triumph in the Cold War. And as the tragedy in Bosnia illustrates, uncertainty and division on the part of Britain, France, and the United States can dim the prospect that democratic principles will flourish elsewhere.
To explore the state of democracy in the Western Allies 50 years after the war, we called upon distinguished political scientists from each of the three countries: Seymour Martin Lipset of the United States, Dennis Kavanagh of Britain, and Philippe Bénéton of France. Interestingly, none of them sees the Second World War’s end as a pivotal point in terms of the evolution of domestic political institutions. For Bénéton, it is the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958 that inaugurates the current period of French history; for Lipset, it is the Vietnam War and the new social movements of the 1960s that mark a critical turn for the United States; and for Kavanagh, it is the Conservative ascendancy initiated by Margaret Thatcher that has transformed British politics. Each of the three countries has its own unique history and institutions, but we believe that these essays taken together provide a revealing picture of democracy and its discontents in the nations that have led the world into its current democratic era.
—The Editors, 14 June 1995