Liberal Democracy is at Risk at Home and Abroad
While more than 100 countries have adopted democracy over the last two centuries, it’s already been a decade since political scientist Larry Diamond posited a “democratic recession” sweeping the globe. The revolt of the middle class, the rise of China, and power grabs through military coups are just a few factors that suggest a disturbing trend of democratic deterioration. Countries such as Hungary and the Czech Republic, once held up as exemplar new democracies, have since restricted social, economic, and political freedoms. Is liberal democracy dying a slow death? How can it be revived?
- 2018 Festival
Before discussing the future of liberal democracy, moderator Elliot Gerson wants to first make sure everyone is on the same page about what liberal democracy actually is. Author and journalist Yascha Mounk, while first clarifying that liberalism in this case isn’t used in a partisan political context, explains the two pillars of a liberal democracy: protection of individual freedoms and collective rule.
The Origin Story
Professor Sheri Berman elaborates on Mounk’s explanation, stressing that these two pillars form an uneasy balance and are sometimes are even at odds with each other.
Political scientists, argues Yascha Mounk, are starting to realize that they’ve been wrong for years about how stable many liberal democracies really are. Not only that, but political scientists are having to reexamine if democracy and liberalism are truly complementary. Watch as he describes how a stable liberal democracy might succumb to authoritarianism:
History is filled with examples of failed democracies falling immediately into civil wars, complete with jailed dissenters and conspicuous dictators. Is that what a failing democracy will look like now though? Sheri Berman warns that democracies like the United States may face a much more insidious future if they’re not careful:
Sheri Berman: Now what we’re looking at is this kind of slow drip, a more gradual erosion, and in some ways that’s more dangerous. Because it’s very difficult to know sometimes that you’re on a slippery slope until you’ve fallen to the bottom of it. And so I think that’s another reason why people are perhaps concerned today. Because it’s not just that we’re seeing erosion in places we historically might not have expected it, it’s that it’s very uncertain both exactly what’s going on and how concerned we should be about any one particular tweet, or norm erosion, or something of that nature.
Both Yascha Mounk and Sheri Berman agree that the democracies around the world are being tested in serious ways. But what’s causing this outbreak that spans oceans and continents? Watch as Berman gives her take on the causes of threatened democracies today: