Not just for the West: liberal democracy ‘a victim of its own success’


FROM ALL OUTWARD signs, liberal democracy is in retreat around the world. Populist and nationalist movements, often explicitly xenophobic, are on the rise in Europe, notes analyst Cathy Young. Opinion columns bear such dour headlines as “How Democracies Perish.” A crop of recent books, including Yascha Mounk’s “The People vs. Democracy,” Jonah Goldberg’s “Suicide of the West,” and Patrick Deneen’s “Why Liberalism Failed,” explore similarly grim themes.

Yet the issue isn’t that liberal democracy has failed. It’s that liberalism — not necessarily the left-of-center American kind, but the broader set of values that includes freedom, equality, democracy, individual rights, secularism, market economics, and internationalism — has been a rousing success, she writes for the Boston Globe:

After rebuilding Europe after 1945 and triumphing at the end of the Cold War, the liberal order has an amazing track record of promoting human well-being. But like every other system, it has its own internal contradictions. Democratic majority rule often conflicts with individualism; liberty, with equality; religious freedom, with personal liberation; and internationalist openness, with civic nationalism. Liberalism’s very successes often heighten these tensions, which have always been simmering in the background.

One of the oddities of current U.S. foreign policy is that despite the stark divides between advocates and critics of the liberal international order, they share some implicit and faulty assumptions, argues Daniel W. Drezner, a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Take, for example, the question of democracy promotion. It seems undeniable that we are experiencing a “democratic recession” in the world, although just how severe it is remains an open question, writes for the Washington Post:

The days of U.S. investments in forcible regime change to promote democracy are behind us, and that’s probably a good thing. But there is a tendency to conflate the costs of Iraq with a belief that the project of democracy promotion is misguided.

Liberal democracy has its challenges. Even in 2018, however, social movements have upended entrenched single-party regimes in places such as Malaysia and Armenia. Even Uzbekistan has taken modest steps toward a more open society.

Do not count liberal democracy out. And definitely do not count it out beyond the West, Drezner concludes. RTWT

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