Conflict of ideas and models in varied, global threats to democracy


Whatever Russia did last year amounted to an attack on American democracy, notes the Wall Street Journal’s Gerald F. Seib. Worse, that is only one of several ways the democratic model is under threat….. Moreover, to the extent that the U.S. itself sometimes seems not to take its own democratic ideals seriously, or fails to make them work well, it can actually help erode the appeal of a system that has long served as an international beacon of hope, he writes:

William Burns, a career foreign service officer who served as both ambassador to Russia and deputy secretary of state, sees “a conflict of ideas and models” playing out on the world stage. Both Russia and China are holding up what Mr. Burns calls their “authoritarian managed economic models” as alternatives to democracy.

In Europe Reset: New Directions for the EU, Richard Youngs, professor of international relations at the UK’s University of Warwick, identifies the EU’s chief problem as its shallow democratic procedures, the FT’s Tony Barber writes:

If many citizens feel disconnected from their national governments, they feel no less alienated from the EU’s distant bodies in Brussels. The remedy, he says, lies in more civic participation in EU affairs and more explicit recognition of the continent’s social, economic and cultural diversity.

“To avert a wholesale meltdown of the European dream, the EU’s whole raison d’être must evolve, from reconciliation between nations to democracy among citizens,” Youngs writes. The author’s big idea is a “compact of European citizens”, civic assemblies at local, national and EU level. As in ancient Greece, lots would be drawn to fill these assemblies with randomly selected citizens rather than politicians. Each lower level would supply members to the level above it.

How Much Democratic Backsliding?

Is there evidence of a global democratic recession? The answer, unfortunately, is yes, say analysts Valeriya Mechkova, Anna Lührmann and Staffan I. Lindberg. The average level of democracy in the world has slipped back to where it was before the year 2000. The decline has been moderate, however, and most changes have occurred within regime categories—with democracies becoming less liberal and autocracies less competitive and more repressive. So far, at least, the data show relatively few countries backsliding from democracy all the way to full-blown autocracy, they write for the National Endowment for Democracy’s Journal of Democracy:

Our analysis is based on the largest democracy database ever compiled. The Varieties of Democracy Project (V-Dem) contains more than eighteen-million data points relevant to democracy, measuring 350 highly specific indicators across 174 currently existing countries as of the end of 2016.2 V-Dem is the first systematic effort to measure the de facto existence of all institutions that make up Robert A. Dahl’s famous conceptualization of electoral democracy as “polyarchy.”3 V-Dem identifies liberal democracies by looking for electoral democracy plus three additional components: the rule of law ensuring respect for civil liberties, judicial constraints on the executive branch, and legislative checks and oversight of the executive.

Non-democratic forms of governance are increasingly attractive in the world’s largest democracy, research suggests.

Both direct and representative democracy enjoy public support. Three-quarters of Indians say a democratic system where representatives elected by citizens decide what becomes law would be a good way to govern their country, the Pew Research Center reports. But…..

Roughly two-thirds of Indians say a good way to govern the country would be experts, not elected officials, making decisions according to what they think is best for the nation. India is one of only seven countries among the 38 surveyed where more than six-in-ten support technocracy.

A majority (55%) of Indians also back a governing system in which a strong leader can make decisions without interference from parliament or the courts, while 53% support military rule. Support for autocratic rule is higher in India than in any other nation surveyed. And India is one of only four nations where half or more of the public supports governing by the military.

Digital democracy?

Digital technology can be an antidote to the crisis of credibility and confidence in democratic institutions, Athens University’s Spyros Tsaousis writes for the FT:

Digital technology transforms politics because it enables governments to know what citizens are thinking and feeling before decisions are taken. It enables a new kind of connection between the governing and the governed, one that cannot be compared with the current relationship between politicians and citizens. The digital revolution enhances transparency, increases openness, simplifies administration and bureaucracy, and works against corruption, clientelism and elitism.

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