Taking liberal democracy for granted?


AUTHORITARIANISM GOES GLOBALAcceptance of liberty as the foundation of legitimate government, and of an international system built on liberal ideas — is under greater threat than at any point since the fall of the Berlin Wall 27 years ago, writes analyst Amichai Magen, Head of the Governance & Political Violence Program at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya.

Russia, China, but also lesser regional powers such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and even economically-devastated Venezuela increasingly seek to wield informational, diplomatic, and economic resources designed to discredit Western democracies, roll back democratic gains, and promote their own anti-liberal ideologies and institutions as legitimate alternatives for other countries to emulate, he writes in a must-read essay for Standpoint:

As part and parcel of the new assertiveness, authoritarian regimes are leading a growing, and increasingly coordinated, assault on support for Western democracy, imposing various constraints on reformist NGOs, closing down pro-democracy organisations, harassing activists, and launching cyber-attacks designed to sabotage democratic processes within Western countries. Indeed, a recent inquiry by a team of experts at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) [above] found that the “Big Five” leading the authoritarian charge — Russia, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela — are increasingly bold in their efforts to insinuate themselves into the democratic political processes of Western countries with the goal of sowing discord and disrupting democratic political space.

Halting Western economic and political decline, rolling back populism and authoritarianism, and renewing global confidence in the values and institutions of liberty … may well take decades of struggle to achieve, but we can begin immediately by overcoming prevailing Western complacency in three fundamental areas, Magen asserts:

  • First, we must overcome our current complacency about the historical “inevitability” of democratic progress. The heady exuberance experienced in the West at the end of the Cold War (a mood famously captured in Fukuyama’s “The End of History” essay in the summer of 1989) has abated, but its anaesthetic effects are still hard at work on our collective psychology. We need to wake up from the dream of democratic historical determinism. The arc of the moral universe may indeed be long, but it doesn’t bend towards justice, or liberty, of its own volition…
  • Second, we have been complacent about the degree and depth of popular attachment to the existing democratic order, and have consequently made the mistake of believing that liberal democracy is popularly understood to be inherently superior to its competitors, and will therefore be backed by the people regardless of performance…
  • Lastly, the democratic West has been complacent, not to say Pollyannaish, about its ability to successfully integrate anti-liberal regimes into the liberal international order…..



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