Democracy as a Lesser Evil: Testing the Churchill Notion of Democracy in South Africa and South Korea

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Centre for Social Science Research

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University of Cape Town

Winston Churchill asserted in 1947 that “democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” To date, this lesser-evil notion of democracy has been tested only in the post-communist societies of Eastern and Central Europe. As a result, little is known about how useful, or valid, this notion of democracy as a lesser evil is for analysing the popular perceptions of democracy among the mass publics of new democracies in other regions. To fill this gap in existing literature, this study analyses public opinion data from South Africa and South Korea. Our analysis of these data reveals that the Churchillian notion of democracy as a lesser evil is of limited use as an alternative paradigm for the study of democratisation, especially from the perspective of ordinary citizens in the midst of that political experience.