‘Nothing inevitable or inexorable’ about democracy’s advance – or decline


Some observers talk as though democracy is in irreversible decline, but the only way that freedom and democracy will fall is if we let them, USAID Administrator Mark Green told a House Appropriations Committee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs.

On the other hand, autocracy’s growing appeal proves there’s “nothing inevitable or inexorable” about democracy, a Congressional hearing was told this week.

While the average autocracy lasted 14 years during the Cold War, the average duration now is 20 years, according to Andrea Kendall-Taylor, a former senior Russia analyst for the National Intelligence Council.

They are also more centralized, she testified at a House Intelligence Committee hearing on the authoritarian resurgence hosted by Representative Adam Schiff (above). “In 1988, personalist regimes comprised 23 percent of all dictatorships. Today, 40 percent of all autocracies are ruled by strongmen,” said Kendall-Taylor, the Pulitzer Center’s Indira Lakshmanan reports:

Over dinner Tuesday to launch Democracy & Disorder, a Brookings Institution study of authoritarianism worldwide, Schiff noted three US military allies — Hungary, Turkey, and the Philippines — are now run by autocrats who control all levers of power. Freedom House’s 2019 annual report documents 13 years of global decline in democracy, including challenges to the United States that “are testing the stability of its constitutional system and threatening to undermine political rights and civil liberties worldwide.”

Brookings president John Allen, a former commander of NATO and US forces in Afghanistan, questioned whether the United States is still a reliable partner to lead the free world, Lakshmanan adds.

Support for democracy around the world has been a central tenet of American foreign policy, according to Stanford University’s Condoleezza RiceNiall Ferguson, and Steve Krasner. The past century provides many examples of prosperity in thriving democracies balanced with the instability of authoritarian and repressive regimes, they will tell a forthcoming forum.

It is a myth that socialism and democracy are incompatible, says a prominent expert.

Communists reject democracy, of course, but other socialists have strongly supported it. In many parts of the world, including Europe, they were the most consistent advocates of democratization, notes Sheri Berman, a Barnard College professor of political science, and the author of “Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe: From the Ancien Régime to the Present Day.”

Eduard Bernstein, for example, one of the fathers of social democracy, described democracy as “both a means and an end. It is a weapon in the struggle for socialism and it is the form in which socialism will be realized,” she writes for the Washington Post:

Conservatives, on the other hand, thought of democracy as “despotism of the multitude,” in Edmund Burke’s phrase, and liberals like Alexis de Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill were resistant to expanding the franchise as well, because giving workers too much power would threaten the economic elites necessary for social stability. Only organizing and pressure from parties of the left broke liberal and conservative resistance to democracy in Europe.

“After the Russian Revolution, a commitment to democracy became a key distinction dividing socialists from communists,” adds Berman, a contributor to the National Endowment for Democracy’s Journal of Democracy. “And after World War II, socialist and social democratic parties became mainstays of democratic systems in Europe.”

Organized labor is often one of the most potent of civil society groups when it comes to defending democracy, research suggests.

In her new book, Contesting Authoritarianism: Labor Challenges to the State in Egypt, Dina Bishara examines the relationship between labor organizations and the state in Egypt to shed light on how political change occurs within an authoritarian government, and to explore when and how institutions designed for political control become contested from below.

Bishara discusses Contesting Authoritarianism: Labor Challenges to the State in Egypt, with POMEPS on Monday, March 4, 2019 at the Elliot School of International Affairs, Room 505.

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