It’s kind of a holiday weekend. But, I really like this topic idea of Aaron’s asking whether universal democracy should still be considered a kind of “Manifest Destiny” for the 21st century. Yes, it has been conventional wisdom for more than a decade that democracy around the world is in retreat. Authoritarianism has descended on country after country. The Arab Spring was stillborn and Iraq and Syria flew apart. Eastern Europe’s promising “color revolutions” petered out with help from a newly-aggressive Russia. Chinese democracy is still a no-show and the country has entered a new period of repression. In the West, right-wing political parties are surging all over the EU and we elected Donald Trump. So much for the end of history and all of that post-Cold War democratic triumphalism, maybe.
Or, maybe not. History is rarely a painless and quickly-triumphant march of progress, is it? There was bound to be a backlash to the post-Cold War spasm of democratic reforms in fragile countries, wasn’t there? And the 2008 financial collapse and growing economic inequality had to at least postpone the party, didn’t it?
FWIW, I think the relationship between economic and social change and democracy is really complicated. For example, globalization can either spur democratic and liberal reforms or a backlash against them. Religion often gets in the way of democratization, but it also binds societies together. I also try to take a long view. I think developing countries are going through the same highly-disruptive, painful struggle the West endured in its century of rapid industrialization and cultural change during 1848-1945. Like we did, the non-West will evolve its own forms of popular governance and institutions to empower and contain government. Results are going to vary a lot country to country and region to region.
Anyway, here are a small number of readings on the topic of the “democratic recession” we are currently experiencing and some speculation as to why and what might happen next. They are all general (not country-specific), but a few are long and/or a bit complicated. We don’t need lectures on basic stuff in this group. So, I will give open us up by highlighting a few of the tensions inherent between rapid econ/social/cultural change and emergence of/persistence of democracy.
- West: What is the Western model of democracy and how does it vary?
- Rest: Have other democratic models emerged outside of the West? Why?
- Retreat: Why has democracy been in retreat lately? Which causes are specific to countries/regions and which any common causes?
- Complexity: What tensions exist between: Democracy and liberalism? Democratic rule and individual rights? Globalization and democracy? Transnational governance and national/local control? Religion and democracy?
- Future: How will we all deal with all these tensions in the future? What’s the future of democracy worldwide?
- Our Role: Is USA leadership necessary, or is our absence? Doing what, exactly?
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- Why is democracy in retreat? Easier read but 5 years old here. Recommended.
- Six preconditions for democracy.
- Democracy’s retreat is only temporary. Recommended, or this longer (pdf) Democracy is NOT in decline worldwide.
- Lefty: Neoliberal globalization threatens democracy.
- Conservative: USA should be cautious and realistic about democracy promotion. (Long historian Walter Russell Mead)
- Will Trump abandon U.S. leadership on democracy promotion? Recommended.
NEXT WEEK: What is progressive religion?