Democratic malaise ‘a byproduct of liberal world order’s success’?


It is easy to view developments over the last few years as a rebuke to the theory of liberalism and as a sign of the eclipse of liberal democracies and their international order. But that would be a mistake, according to Daniel Deudney, Associate Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University, and G. John Ikenberry, Albert G. Milbank Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University.

Although the recent challenges should not be underestimated, it is important to recognize that they are closer to the rule than the exception. Against the baseline of the 1990s, when the end of the Cold War seemed to signal the permanent triumph of liberal democracy and the “end of history,” the recent setbacks and uncertainties look insurmountable, they write for Foreign Affairs:

The recent rise of illiberal forces and leaders is certainly worrisome. Yet it is too soon to write the obituary of liberalism as a theory of international relations, liberal democracy as a system of government, or the liberal order as the overarching framework for global politics. The liberal vision of nation-states cooperating to achieve security and prosperity remains as vital today as at any time in the modern age. In the long course of history, liberal democracy has hit been hard times before, only to rebound and gain ground. It has done so thanks to the appeal of its basic values and its unique capacities to effectively grapple with the problems of modernity and globalization. …..

ikenbThe Chinese Communist Party appears increasingly likely to seek to offer an alternative to the components of the existing order that have to do with economic liberalism and human rights. If it ends up competing with the liberal democracies, they will again face pressure to champion their values. As during the Cold War, they will have incentives to undertake domestic reforms and strengthen their international alliances. The collapse of the Soviet Union, although a great milestone in the annals of the advance of liberal democracy, had the ironic effect of eliminating one of its main drivers of solidarity. The bad news of renewed ideological rivalry could be good news for the liberal international order.

“In many respects, today’s liberal democratic malaise is a byproduct of the liberal world order’s success,” they add.


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