Liberal democracy ‘under siege’ from populists, autocrats


Liberal democracy is under siege, notes Columbia University’s Andrés Velasco, a former presidential candidate and finance minister of Chile. Populists of the right and left are not only lashing out at globalization or stagnating middle-class incomes; they are calling into question the legitimacy of the institutions of liberal democracy and of the political elites who manage those institutions, he writes for Project Syndicate.

“It’s facile to blame the politics of post-truth practiced by populists. Lies and exaggerations would not work if current democratic practice were without problems. …We must re-examine and, if possible, redress what the Italian democratic theorist Norberto Bobbio called the ‘broken promises of democracy’,” he adds:

Indeed, two fascinating recent papers by researchers at Harvard and MIT explain the emergence of populism in terms of politicians’ efforts to signal to voters that they are not beholden to powerful interests. Thus, although populist policies reduce overall economic welfare, rational voters choose them because they are the price of distinguishing between different types of politicians. As one of the papers puts it: “once leaders are not necessarily honest, it may be worth hiring those that are incompetent.”

Bobbio emphasizes that lack of trust in democratic politicians also arises from two additional difficulties. One is that modern societies are pluralistic, with many interests vying to be represented; there is no general will for a politician to represent. The other is that in a representative democracy there is no binding mandate for the elected politician to act in a certain way. Once she is elected, it is up to her to decide what the good of society is and which policies will advance it. The potential for conflict is obvious. RTWT

Some fear that democracy is deteriorating under the pressure of populism, notes analyst Roger-Pol Droit. There’s a word in ancient Greek to describe this phenomenon: ochlocracy. It’s no longer used. And yet, it deserves to be brought back in fashion, he writes for Les Echos:

“Ochlos” refers to the mob in its chaotic, tumultuous, messy, unpredictable character, as opposed to “demos” the people. Democracy is the power of the people but it takes place within a legal framework people created for themselves. Decisions come from citizens who use logic to deliberate — they have to be educated and knowledgeable to have informed and reasonable opinions. On the other hand, when the crowd dominates, when public emotions reign, the system subsides.

Populists and Autocrats: The Dual Threats to Global Democracy

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017 9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. Breakfast will be served  at 8:30 a.m.

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