Can democracy survive backsliding?


Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried. The maxim, made famous by Winston Churchill, was actually expressed six months earlier by the French writer Albert Camus, which the British Prime Minister only half acknowledged, notes Ben Hall, the FT’s Europe editor. 

Two major reports recently concluded that record numbers of nations are backsliding into or toward autocracy, while already-authoritarian regimes tighten their grip, the National Post’s Tom Blackwell observes, citing Freedom House’s annual report on global liberty and International IDEA’s similarly grim analysis, concluding that the sum of states moving towards authoritarianism in 2020 was three times the number democratizing – for the fifth straight year.

Will democracy have to evolve to survive in the twenty-first century? What lessons can the United States learn from other democracies? And how alarmed should Americans be about democratic backsliding?

Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass and Pulitzer Prize–winning author Anne Applebaum discuss these questions in the latest episode of a CFR podcast – “The 21st Century World: Big Challenges and Big Ideas.”

Every country is potentially a democracy or a dictatorship, said Applebaum, a National Endowment for Democracy board member. There is nothing inevitable or predetermined about countries’ political trajectories. Democracies can always backslide or deteriorate, but high levels of pluralism and diversity are a robust antidote to regression.

Senator Chris Coons, John Avlon, Masih Alinejad, and Garry Kasparov discuss Biden’s Democracy Summit at a Renew Democracy Initiative event (above).

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