Global Democracy: Is it time to worry?
29 March, 2018
Democracy, as once elaborated by Winston Churchill, is the worst form of government – other than all the other ones that humans have tried. One might then suggest that there are superior forms of governance that we just have not tried yet. If so, is this true, or have we found one already? Is democracy in its final years?
At a first glance, some arguments may look fathomable as to how democracy in its current state is failing. In terms of stability of rule, some countries show that democracy can yield long-term gaps in effective leadership. Belgium went almost two years without a government in 2010-2011 and only this past year Germany took six months to form their own – and this was suggested to have been because they feared a re-election might give more power to the rising far-right.
On the topic of the far-right movement, its spread across Europe and North America, specifically the United States, has challenged democracy further. Both the Trump campaign and Brexit movements have come under heavy fire, with the allegations of collusion against the Trump campaign mounting every day and the Brexit campaign being called outright illegal by a whistleblower.
Yet these watershed issues are by no means the climax of the movement, as parties throughout these regions have been gaining momentum such as The National Front in France, AfD in Germany, FPO in Austria, and – dare it be said – the Republican party in the United States. These far-right parties can all be characterized by a rise in fairly xenophobic and homophobic policies that often spur non-inclusive nationalism, typically ignoring facts, evidence-based research, and scientific consensus for political gain.
Hopefully it is intuitive as to why these factors are a threat to democracy. The spread of misinformation and slander campaigns to fuel much of this movement is also quite worrisome, showing a possible issue with the susceptibility of democratic countries’ populations to these types of messages.
All these worries are quite prevalent in modern, established democracies, but what of the rest of the world? What of nascent or even potential democracies worldwide?
The project of democracy has evolved over hundreds of years, and after World War Two it seemed that perhaps the world would steadily become fully democratic. After all, democracy has historically been tied to economic success, which means domestic political success, and the Democratic Peace Theory suggests that democracies have never, and will never, go to war with each other.
And yet, it remains unclear whether other regions of the world will democratize or not. Russia and Turkey, after the fall of the USSR and Ottoman Empire respectively, both looked poised to join the democratic circle, yet under Putin and Erdogan these countries look more and more authoritarian with each passing day. In Russia, election tampering is commonplace and political opponents are routinely killed or jailed. After a Turkish coup that, according to sources within NATO, was staged by Erdogan, thousands upon thousands of dissidents and non-sympathizers to his government were rounded up with surprising speed.
Even countries in the process of democratic consolidation are having a hard time progressing. During the well-known ‘Arab Spring’ movement in 2011 around the Middle East and North Africa, six countries had citizens riot, overthrow regimes, or cause massive uprisings with a slew of other countries witnessing large scale protests and yet at the end of it all only the one that started it all – Tunisia – ended up with a new constitutional democracy, and even its future is uncertain.
All this might suggest that democracy maybe isn’t something that all countries should strive for in the near future. And maybe they are right. Freedom house reports that freedoms worldwide have been in decline for over a decade. For leaders around the world, democracy sure seems like a less secure position of power for them, with authoritarian figures such as Putin and Erdogan wielding immense authority within their countries. China is even looking to export their one-party totalitarian style of governance, and with their massive economic success, some might be willing to try it out.
However, at the end of the day, the factor that many forget is that democracy has never been about being the most efficient, effective, and economically beneficial mode of governance. It has always been about humanity. Human rights, compromise, self-governance, and personal freedoms are the beating heart of democracy, something people died fighting for in revolutions from Great Britain and France to Tunisia.
Whatever happens to the future of democracy, be it good or bad, the one thing their citizens can count on is that no matter the outcome, they will have had some say in it themselves.