‘Multiple paths’ out of democratic regression


With many democracies sliding further and further toward authoritarianism, NPR’s Ari Shapiro talks with Larry Diamond of Stanford University about the global democratic recession.

“The whole spectrum of regimes in the world is moving in the wrong direction,” says Diamond. “Liberal democracies, I’d say, including ours, are under pressure of becoming less liberal, less tolerant. Countries that are democracies but maybe not liberal ones like the Philippines are at very serious risk of sliding back into authoritarian rule. And countries that have been authoritarian are becoming more authoritarian.”

Liberal democracies have found it hard to come to terms with economist Dani Rodrik’s “trilemma” – namely, reconciling globalization, democracy and national sovereignty. States can have any two, but never all three, he contends.

In After Europe, Ivan Krastev suggests that European governments persuaded themselves that they could have what Rodrik argued was unachievable — namely, “hyperglobalisation, democracy and self-determination simultaneously,” notes the FT’s Jonathan Derbyshire. Political elites, Krastev says, have either tried to wish away the trilemma altogether or else sought to “make possible the impossible” by torturing terms like democracy and sovereignty into near-meaninglessness. The consequences have been predictably severe, with populists of various stripes gaining ground across the EU, he writes:

The emergence over the past few years of a more confrontational style of politics, in which charismatic leadership matters more than policy and the old division between right and left matters less than that between “internationalists and nativists”, leads Krastev [right, a contributor to the National Endowment for Democracy’s Journal of Democracy] to predict that 2017 “may end up being just as consequential” as 1917, the year of the Russian revolution.

In fact, the outlook for liberal democracy in Europe looks a little less gloomy than it must have done when he was finishing the book, in the shadow of the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump in the US — not to mention accumulating evidence that EU member states in central and eastern Europe, Hungary and Poland in particular, are systematically flouting the principles of constitutional liberalism on which the union is built. Democratic politicians should not take what he calls the ‘powerlessness of power’ for granted. RTWT

“At the very heart of the populist challenge,” Krastev suggests, “is the struggle over the nature and obligations of elites. Unlike a century ago, today’s insurgent leaders aren’t interested in nationalizing industries. Instead, they promise to nationalize their elites. They don’t promise to save the people but to stay with them.”

Western Europeans tend to discount the political similarities between the parts of the continent that were once separated by the Iron Curtain, Harvard’s Yascha Mounk writes for The New Republic:

By showing that the Eastern half of the continent often acts on the same anxieties as the Western half (or indeed, the United States), Krastev makes clear just how much self-flattery is involved in that assumption. As the last months have shown, the fear of cultural loss and the desire to renationalize elites are powerful political forces in Michigan, Middlesbrough, and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern as well as in Macedonia.

But there are “multiple paths” out of the current crisis, says Diamond (right), the founding coeditor of the Journal of Democracy and the co-chair of the Research Council of the the National Endowment for Democracy‘s International Forum for Democratic Studies:

One is that there are a lot of people in these countries – and certainly Polish civil society in recent months has made that clear – who are not going to simply sit by idly and watch their freedom stolen from them. And I think the urgent imperative now for the United States both for our government – but since our government is not putting a high priority on this, I would certainly underscore our Congress – our think tank community and our civil society, we need to speak out as a country and push back against this.

And most importantly, stand in solidarity morally, diplomatically with democrats in these countries – in the Philippines, in Poland, in Venezuela, in Bangladesh and certainly in Turkey, as well as Russia – who are fighting a very brave and difficult struggle to either defend their freedom before it’s taken away or, as in the case of Russia and Venezuela, to try and recover it.


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