Countries rarely embrace democracy as their first choice; they have often tried monarchies, oligarchies or other forms of coercive government first. They come to democracy because, for all its messiness and inefficiency, it is the way to give people a voice in how they’re governed, and to allow them to change leaders peacefully.
But it can never be taken for granted. It is constantly confronting challenges and threats and adapting to changing times. Those challenges will be discussed at the five-day Athens Democracy Forum this week in Athens, Greece.
Democracy doesn’t matter. That’s the message traders are sending as they continue to gorge on bonds from some of the world’s most authoritarian governments (above), Bloomberg reports:
Wall Street soaked up junk-bond deals this month from Tajikistan and Bahrain, both of which are regarded as some of the most autocratic regimes as ranked by Washington-based Freedom House. Demand for the Central Asian republic’s debt was so high last week that it was able to cut borrowing costs by almost a full percentage point from its initial target. The Middle East kingdom sold $3 billion of debt on Wednesday, its biggest sale ever.
In advance of the conference, The Times solicited essays on some of the challenges facing nations today.
The global spread of democracy, a Western gift to the world, was meant to result in the election of liberal, pro-Western leaders. Instead, a wave of strongmen rulers has been elected, many of whom have clear non-Western identities, notes Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (National University of Singapore), and the author of “Has the West Lost It?”:
The rise of these leaders may reflect a new chapter in history. For the past 200 years, the West has been unusually powerful, dominating history even in the post-colonial era. However, mistakes made by the West have given rise to the sharp anti-Western edge of leaders like Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Putin. And as American and European power recedes, a global resurrection of non-Western attitudes is taking place.
But Mahbubani consistently reduces diversity and complexity to crude either-or stereotypes, as in his master narrative pitting “the West” against “the Rest,” notes analyst Donald K. Emmerson. In accusing “the Western mind” of being able to think only in black-and-white terms, he contradicts his own Manichean method, he wrote for The Journal of Democracy.
A lack of trust towards political parties and institutions is feeding democratic decline, said former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, addressing the Athens Democracy Forum on Wednesday. Annan cited Aristotle’s observation that concentrated wealth can prompt disorder, while a large middle class is the backbone of democracy.