So what precisely does the election of Mr Trump have to do with a book on the end of democracy? The answer is of course not a lot. On the contrary 63 million people casting a vote in a fair and free election, rejecting other candidates while embracing the candidate they felt best represented them, is surely democracy in its purest form.
Not according to Runciman.
This book can be summarised thus: When it returns the 'right' results democracy is functioning as it should; when it returns the 'wrong' results it has failed and something must be done to prevent people from voting for those whom the liberal establishment disapprove.
What Mr Runciman singularly fails to appreciate is that the job of democracy is to simply consolidate existing power structures - not to act as an agent of change. His visceral reaction to what he disparagingly calls Populism is simply an auto reacton, the anger of the elitist whose privilege is under threat.
While voter enfranchisement was generally a good thing, as a serious challenge to the established liberal order Populism turns out in practice to be a very bad thing. The problem when you allow people to vote is that they can and do vote for who they want. Tricky.
For liberal supremacists, the election of Donald Trump has proved to be a fraught event, none more so than the author whose digs at the US president do become a little tiresome after a while. Most of his contentions regarding Trump are in fact demonstrably false:
'His behaviour in office has already given the lie to many of his campaign pledges.'
'He dominates the attention of the entire world, even as he fails to get anything done.'
With US employment at its highest level in decades, a roaring economy and an immigration/border control service fully empowered, all Runciman does with such false statements is reveal his own prejudices. At one point he even declares that Trump's North Korea policy has also failed . . .
How then to take anything the author says seriously? Politically, his opinions coincide perfectly with liberal group-think. The villains are the usual ones: Populism, Trump, Viktor Orban, climate 'deniers,' etc. His self-identification as a 'privileged, middle-class white man,' demonstrates that identity politics are central to Runciman's worldview.
The author is an orthodox right-thinker. Just beneath the surface of this book one detects seething anger: surely it's the right of the clever people to control the stupid? Something has gone very, very wrong.
Implicit in this book is the assertion that the little people can't be trusted to vote for the right politics - the politics of Runciman and friends. So what's the use of democracy asks the author. After all, if democracy delivers people like Trump, then there must be something very wrong with such a system, right?
Although, Runciman tries so very hard to produce an objective treatise, his prejudices are deeply ingrained in his thinking. For example, the UK's vote to leave the EU is yet another example when the plebs apparently got it 'wrong.' Like his fellow travellers in the elite establishment class, the author's deeply entrenched worldview shines through on just about every page of this bizarre book.
With its nasty habit of producing the 'wrong' results what can replace democracy wonders the author. At this point the book begins to ramble as the author discusses AI, machines and Facebook.
Rule by experts and clever people - technocracy and epistocracy - the author rejects, tempting as such centralised systems of power are. How do you select such people (and more to the point how would you rid yourself of them?)
The author prefers 'collective democracy' as practised in China and which he chillingly calls 'pragmatic authoritarianism.' In this type of democracy the individual is subsumed into one mass which is controlled by 'experts' and academics who know best and act in the interests of the group rather than the individual.
All well and good, but Chinese dissidents do have a nasty habit of disappearing - a price worth paying it seems. What does the indiviual matter? Scary stuff, but a system nevertheless for which the author can barely hide his admiration.
With its elitist attitude and inability to transcend its own narrow worldview, How Democracy Ends is a disappointing book overall. Although he spends much time analysing coups, Runciman is completely blind to two of the biggest ever coups happening under his very nose - the attempts to subvert the Trump presidency and Brexit. Presumably, this is because some coups - the 'right' coups - do not require explication.
Runciman reluctantly comes to the conclusion that the present system still has legs. His analysis however falls short. Democracy will continue not because of the reasons postulated in this book, but because it is designed precisely to maintain control over the masses. What matters is maintaining the power and privilege of the elite. Trump and Brexit were indeed aberrations. Correction will come because power ultimately prevails, not democracy.
To state that democracy could end, presupposes it has begun. But has it really? If you understand that democracy is merely the formal process by which the rich and powerful achieve validation, then much of what this book discusses might seem redundant, frivolous even.
A more salient question to ask might have been: Have we ever had true democracy? Now that would have been a compelling book.