Democracy is moving away from mass representation and the bureaucracy of the welfare state towards something more networked, open and personalized, argues Anthony Zacharzewski, the director of the Democratic Society, a British non-profit that promotes democracy and new models of participative government.
“Like a city that creates new suburbs but can never leave the shapes and patterns of the past behind, we cannot create this new democracy as we please: we have to manage the transition in a way that meets the needs of tomorrow’s citizens, while being acceptable to those of today,” he writes for Open Democracy. “The lessons of other such transitions, 1789, 1832 or 1945, is that they do not happen easily, and the comfortable timescales of governments and establishment are easily overtaken by the speed of social change.”
The globalization of social media and of the English language also explains why Western democracies come under more scrutiny than authoritarian regimes, says a prominent analyst.
“In our increasingly Anglophone world, Americans have become nakedly transparent to English speakers everywhere, yet the world remains bafflingly and often frighteningly opaque to monolingual Americans,” argues Ivan Krastev, the chairman of the Center for Liberal Strategies and a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. “While the world devours America’s movies and follows its politics closely, Americans know precious little about how non-Americans think and live. Americans have never heard of other countries’ movie stars and have only the vaguest notions of what their political conflicts are about.”
“This gross epistemic asymmetry is a real weakness,” he writes for The New York Times:
When WikiLeaks revealed the secret cables of the American State Department or leaked the emails of the Clinton campaign, it became a global news sensation and a major embarrassment for American diplomacy. Leaking Chinese diplomatic cables or Russian officials’ emails could never become a worldwide human-interest story, simply because only a relative handful of non-Chinese or non-Russians could read them, let alone make sense of them.
The West became complacent and narcissistic following the post-1989 transitions, but it has now lapsed into pessimistic self-pity and “moral panic” over the autocratic resurgence when it should adopt Vaclav Havel’s approach of healthy self-criticism, Krastev told a recent forum at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance NGO