Are Western democracies1 in crisis? This question is being asked with increasing frequency by social scientists and other observers. Those who believe a crisis is imminent attribute it to anything from the rise in oil prices, inflation and unemployment to the internal contradictions of capitalism. Those who oppose the idea point to the growing affluence and extensive welfare systems of Western democracies. They add that democracy has had a turbulent history from its very inception and that the claim of an oncoming crisis could have been made with greater validity, say, a hundred and fifty or even fifty years ago.