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We can be judged by our own strength, but also by the relative strength of our adversaries. Donald Trump's victory in the U.S. election was also the defeat of Hillary Clinton, and all of what she represented. Last night's unprecedented announcement that embattled French President Francois Hollande would not seek a second term will no doubt offer a boost to any number of political rivals, both in Hollande's own Socialist party, as well as those on the center-right and far-right parties.

Yet those who run for office, ready to present themselves to the public as a solver of their problems and a vessel of their trust, must be aware of a weakness in the system that runs deeper than any one candidate. The obvious case in point was last June's "Brexit" vote, where British voters registered their disgust with the entire ruling class in a referendum that was proposed by the prime minister himself. We know how that ended — it sent David Cameron packing and threatened to unravel the entire European Union. Now in Italy, on Sunday, another referendum may have major consequences for the prime minister, as well as international ramifications of its own.

The wave of referendums points to the age-old tension between representative and direct democracy. Sure, people are fed up with their rulers. But ballot measures often are just a way of "challenging more than actually trying to agree on something," reports French daily Les Echos, citing researcher Thierry Chopin. "We rarely answer the question that's being asked. We judge first those who ask the question and we react to a context."

Ultimately democracy, beyond perhaps an apartment co-op board, is too big and complicated to be run directly. Whether we lash out at our representatives when they run for office, or via a referendum that they propose, citizens must rely on others to carry out the work of governing. The real tension, then, is between democracy itself and its alternative. And these days, democracy is looking pretty weak.

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Society

Now They're Diagnosing Burnout's Never-Quit Cousin: Burn-On

Feeling overworked but not yet burned out? Often the problem is “burn-on,” an under-researched phenomenon whose sufferers desperately struggle to keep up and meet their own expectations — with dangerous consequences for their health.

Now They're Diagnosing Burnout's Never-Quit Cousin: Burn-On

Burn-out is the result of sustained periods of stress at work

Beate Strobel

At first glance, Mr L seems to be a successful man with a well-rounded life: middle management, happily married, father of two. If you ask him how he is, he responds with a smile and a “Fine thanks”. But everything is not fine. When he was admitted to the psychosomatic clinic Kloster Diessen, Mr L described his emotional life as hollow and empty.

Although outwardly he is still putting on a good face, he has been privately struggling for some time. Everything that used to bring him joy and fun has become simply another chore. He can hardly remember what it feels like to enjoy his life.

For psychotherapist Professor Bert te Wildt, who heads the psychosomatic clinic in Ammersee in Bavaria, Germany, the symptoms of Patient L. make him a prime example of a new and so far under-researched syndrome, that he calls “burn-on”. Working with psychologist Timo Schiele, he has published his findings about the phenomenon in a book, Burn-On.

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