Democracy in crisis: innovative strategies for turning the tide


After the hope engendered by the Third Wave, democracies around the world are beleaguered with threats from multiple sources, according to a new book, described as “a healthy and constructive critique of the business of democracy and development assistance.”

“For some 15 years, I was a professional optimist,” said Roland Rich, author of Democracy in Crisis: Why, Where, How to Respond. As head of the Australian and then the United Nations democracy promotion bodies, I had to project confidence and progress. Now that I am free of these responsibilities, this book provides a far more realistic perspective of where democracy stands in the world. It is not a pretty picture.” 

What are the challenges to democratic governance and how can they best be overcome? asks Rich, a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, whose book offers innovative strategies for turning the tide.

Demonizing democracy

Authoritarian regimes everywhere have sought to neutralize precisely those institutions that serve as the key instruments of democratic change, notes Arch Puddington, distinguished Scholar for Democracy Studies at Freedom House and author of Breaking Down Democracy: The Strategies, Goals, and Methods of Modern Authoritarians.

Civil society is one of a triad of institutions—free markets and the internet are the other two—that many believed would break down the structures of political repression in those parts of the world that had been bypassed by the democratic revolutions of the late 20th century. But since Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, civil society has come under relentless persecution, he writes for The American Interest:

The United States and other democracies need not accept modern authoritarians’ repressive features as immutable. We could, for example, impose trade sanctions on China for its restrictions on U.S. technology firms. But as we take action to advance our values, we should recognize that today’s autocrats understand that pluralism and dissenting ideas pose as serious a threat to their rule as they did to the one-party state of the previous century.

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