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Has democracy had its day?

Posted By Robin Jourdan, Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Robin Jourdan, a member of our Emerging Fellows program believes that democratic systems have not solved many problems, but they evolve into the future. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.


To be called democracy, a governing system is made up of basic rules: open and free-will elections, political participation, civil rights, and separation of powers. In a free country, people may speak their minds and shape their own and their children's futures. Threats and weaknesses in democracies are plenty. Some leaders have destroyed the substance of democracy in their country, muzzling the press and imprisoning opponents, while preserving the show of freedom. Deciding to introduce the euro in 1999 was undertaken chiefly by technocrats rather than by popular vote. Distrust in governments and weak leadership push prevalent anxieties.


Trust is a tangential challenge for experts and technology. Often citizens reject experts as an objection to power abuse. Experts must remain servants not masters to the system. Similarly, expertise-christened artificial intelligence may make most people better off toward the end of this century. Wearable and implantable technologies enable people to interact in new ways. Famously, "I think; therefore, I am," was expressed by Descartes. We're not sure if machines think, but as that distinction becomes fainter, our relationship with them will likewise shift.


As an economic system capitalism is a relative newcomer. Sharing periods of global maturation further confuses the system by conflating democracy and capitalism. Indeed, the US Constitution isn't an economic document. It provides for intervention in financial situations when the economy requires regulation. Deeply ingrained in the material, economic liberty is the means to protect occupational freedom. This specificity leaves open the door to alternative financial solutions. Democratic socialism is when the means of production are socially and collectively owned or controlled, alongside a democratic political system. Even the ten most innovative countries are a mix of capitalist, socialist, democratic, and autocratic.


As an alternative model's success, China can't help but represent a challenge to democracy and capitalism. Achievements of the Beijing Consensus include China itself. China has become the land that failed to fail and is on a trajectory to become a viable global, science superpower. Also, these successes create compelling arguments to modify capitalism.


From an ability to marshal vast resources against wicked problems like climate change to nurture long-term thinking associated with complex problem-solving, Brussels and Beijing are tallying up successes. Democracies haven’t yet solved these problems for many reasons including unrelenting political cycles. Such evidence creates a compelling argument and threat to democracy’s hold.


Economics, health, and safety have, at times, held contentious positions. Globally today, nine out of 10 people breathe polluted air. Ignoring climate change and other wicked problems could come at a cost in the trillions of dollars, antithetical to capitalist goals. Threats to corporate profits win little public interest, but businesses can wield power to change the conservation conversation in ways that don't rely on politics.


Has democracy had its day? Changes to democratic systems are likely to continue, as it is bred to mirror the culture it supervises. Whether direct, representative or constitutional, all forms are a dominantly Western construction. That so many people are prepared to risk themselves for this idea testifies to its enduring appeal. Democracy may not exist in any pure form, but we'll miss it if it's gone.


© Robin Jourdan 2019

Tags:  change  democracy  economics 

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Do economics and politics have a common ancestry?

Posted By Robin Jourdan, Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Robin Jourdan considers the origination point of Democracy and Capitalism in her tenth blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.


No straightforward origination point of capitalism can be teased out of history. Of any of the origin stories, one thread is common: capitalism's goal is benefit of the one, the owner. Thus, Democracy and Capitalism are at odds. Each depends on an ideal of equality: everybody may share in political decision-making, and everyone to do the best they can in the market, respectively. Conflicts between the two systems often rub where property rights and workplace conditions are involved.


Politics is local in its intentions; while capitalism is essentially global. Democratic politics is founded on the equality of its citizens; capitalism cares little about the distribution of riches. Democracy says all citizens have a voice; capitalism gives the rich by far the loudest. From the 1940s to the 1970s, when the government in the US was most reliable and allied with business, the stakeholder age, it seemed everybody won. Earlier, the Great (global) Depression of the 1930s brought the policies of laissez-faire (noninterference by the states in economic matters) to an end in most countries..


Technology is creating a whole new class of the worker today; the machine, robot, AI workforce. Will today's working-class become the new "useless" class? For sure, machine learning and robotics will change what work will be in the latter half of this century. As AI eliminates dependence on people or physical resources, the current global economy based on traditional capitalism could give way to 5th Industrial Revolution practices. The phase-in of a smart Digital Europe may ultimately lead to a highly automated market economy by mid-century. However, the problem is transnational. Businesses often answer to more than one government.


Looking back from 2050, what economic and political conditions were essential to prosperity? Markets will continue to rely on continual growth. The emerging connection, information, and sharing economy will bring a new pulse to bend markets.  These will require a new set of business rules. Growth comes to those who take full advantage of opportunities. Local agencies will lead efforts for economic development, welfare policy, and citizen engagement strategies.


A feature distinguishing capitalism from previous systems was the use of accumulated capital to enlarge productive capacity rather than to invest in economically unproductive enterprises, such as pyramids and cathedrals. Shifting from the Industrial to the Information Revolution as we are today globally won't follow yesterday's recipe for success.


Democratic politics depends on solidarity; capitalists do not prioritize nationality. Electorates desire economic security; capitalism is susceptible to boom and bust. Capitalism seeks the benefit of the one, winner take all; a benevolent and strong political governance system seeks the benefit of the many; we're best when we're together. It is naïve to ask capitalists to change capitalism from inside. Context matters. Its conflation with Democracy as a governance system shortchanges governance. Rather, it is economics that needs to be re-thought and reinvented.


Though bits and components existed in different locations since ancient times, these two ideals together caught fire with the advent of the Industrial Revolution and the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century. Capitalism was born at the same time that the phrase "I want more" came into our collective consciousness. Do they have a common ancestry? The simple answer is no.


© Robin Jourdan 2019

Tags:  capitalism  democracy 

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Can democracy function in a polarized society?

Posted By Robin Jourdan, Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Robin Jourdan inspects the functioning of democracy under polarized conditions of the society in her tenth blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.


To polarize is to cause people to divide into distinct groups. Polarization is more than just having a different opinion than a neighbor. It’s when we refuse to live near that neighbor we become polarized. During the American Revolutionary War, not everyone in the Colonies wanted independence. Loyalists to the British Crown, aka Tories, included William Franklin, then royal governor of New Jersey and son of Patriot leader Benjamin Franklin. Holiday dinner must have been uncomfortable.


Let’s not be confused that polarization is a political tool. Polarization isn’t limited to the US, of course. Europeans, disenchanted with mainstream politics and growing global anti-establishment sentiment, have extended the fragmentation. There is a price to pay for polarization. For example, we see a decrease in charitable giving and personal health. There is more pressure to conform, and it’s easier for us to be deceived. Legislative gridlock and violence grow.


Of the many forces shaping polarization: tribalism, trust, community, technology, media, and politicians are reaching a collective apex. Tribalism is almost religiously seen today by groups that compete, especially where negotiation and compromise are perceived as a betrayal. As Abraham Lincoln put it, “Constitution and Laws” were to be America’s “political religion.” All this talk of tribalism misses a crucial point. Diversity, when combined with equality, makes us stronger. This is not new.


Who benefits from polarization? Take a lesson from Deep Throat: follow the money. Today’s Fifth Estate: search engines, social media, and news media benefit from polarization. The first two, using algorithms and personalized content create non-arbitrary access to information. The growing glut of information generates confusion and discomfort for many. Algorithms assuage this by providing only that information which is personally comfortable and self-reinforceable.


Countries with less diversified but emerging media markets, e.g., China and South Korea, are becoming more polarized due to the development of such media. When business models are based on how much time and interest a user spends on a site, the incentive is clear. And nothing outdoes puppies followed by outrage. In the West there is a quote: “Common etiquette says not to talk about politics, sex, religion, or money. But these are the most interesting things to discuss!”


Going forward, as the Gen Z society’s comfort with diversity becomes influential toward mid-century, businesses that improve transparency will build trust and thrive. Evolutions in the business world will similarly progress expectations on representatives. But growth can be stunted by a lack of trust in unconstrained technology. New technologies support opportunities only if the public has confidence in how the data is used. Missed opportunities will grow. Only 1-2% of consumers today trust that their personal information will be protected in the markets through mid-century. Wearable and implantable technologies enable people to interact in new ways. Digital services can contribute to a shared vision of social justice, environmental and economic stability if a generally inclusive worldview expresses public dialogue.


Can democracy function in a polarized society? The principle: nature abhors a vacuum is equally true in a political ecosystem. Manipulation byproducts of the Fifth Estate will diminish only when government earns confidence by solving real problems. Political systems failing to deal with complex issues and social dissatisfactions have many reasons for fabricating distracting headlines. First, governments must learn from the business sector and catch-up with real transparency. Without the possibility of polarization, where differences of opinions allowed, we stumble into authoritarianism no matter how well intentioned at the start.


Second, polarization ignores moderates. Today, moderates in the US are leaving the traditional 2-party system in favor of the “Independent” party. A moderate’s goal is not to make the world conform to some extreme perspective. Instead, it’s to work in the world as it actually is, with all its messiness and confusion. International relationships that are based on mutually relevant values, and respect, signal moderation. Have we reached a global or regional “peak polarization”? Not quite. However, today, moderates matter more than ever. Every swing of the political pendulum includes a moderation period.


© Robin Jourdan 2019

Tags:  democracy  polarization  society 

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Who are the people democracy is supposed to serve?

Posted By Robin Jourdan, Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Robin Jourdan inspects the real audience of democracy in her ninth blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.


In the past governments tended to serve the governors before the people. Inspired by Magna Carta in England, the US’s Bill of Rights serve as starting gates for the idea of government designed so that the people can exercise control over their governing representatives. Governance bending to build future strengths for all, rather than fortifying old victories took its first tentative steps.


A myth is that every generation’s youth go through non-political periods. This can translate into a cynicism about government; but not always. A “Youth LEAD” trend seems to be appearing with data points going back at least 50 years that show the youth of an area, region, and nations pulling together to represent their interests in environmental and climate actions. They acknowledge that problems are complicated; but angry over the inaction about the conditions they’re due to inherit.


Today, nearly half of the world’s inhabitants is under 30 years old. It’s known that educated, healthy, employed, and civically engaged youth drive economic growth, democracy, and prosperity. However, less than 6% of parliamentarians globally are under 35 years old. Young people are under-represented and excluded in policy related decision-making. Fewer than 2% of parliamentarians around the world are in their 20s and only 12% are in their 30s. In the early part of the 21st century, efforts have sprung up, Millennium Development Goals, to increase youth representation in advisory capacities, constitution reviews, reporting, and more. For example, since the Arab Awakening young people have remained politically active through “political movements” instead of engaging with and in political parties. The United Nations (Development Program) formally recognized that when young people engage in peace-building via new and mobile technologies, these can lead to non-violent change. A Nigerian Youth Agenda on political participation was developed to encourage collaboration. Bangladesh and Jordan launched similar actions with the assistance of the United Nations Development Program. Even with this progress, this generation at the beginning of the century have been left behind and denied opportunities. Some suspect there may be a far-reaching re-negotiation in the social contract between generations approaching.


What could change in the last half of this century is multi-tiered: from AI advances, security issues, to social media. Youths around the world will turn to smartphones rather than adults for what they need. Younger people use these fingertip tools for change and impact can only strengthen. Reforms for who government serves may be waged from the inside out and change the global narrative.


The end of the century may bring well-practiced socio-emotional skills and growth mindsets. Continuing the Youth LEAD trend of youth-motivated leadership, education, advocacy and development, has long-term potential to raise their global political power. Forward acting nations may pressure laggards by limiting access to their workforce. Instabilities for isolated regimes due to internal power struggles and energy could erupt into battles.


Going forward, if a business as usual approach continues, focus on skills-gaps and employment can go on to distract influencers, and a lack of real engagement with residents will continue in pockets. A grim retaliation could result. AI may diminish unwanted interactions with police due to autonomous mobility, but jobs may be even more scarce. Again, a distraction. To the second half of the twenty-first century, if people live longer, mixed with low pay, decreased employment opportunities, and constrained health care may strain even the most resilient of systems.


When in the past has one generation sacrificed for the benefit of future generations? Two examples: medieval cathedrals were built for future generations and fighting wars meant risking your life now to keep your country free for future generations. Wishful-thinkers may dismiss the trend for young people’s stand on environmental issues.


Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out that each generation must get the knowledge, skills, and traits of character that underpin a constitutional democracy. It’s relatively easy to produce competent people. Lobbyists today teach us an essential lesson about the service of democracy. Regardless of your side of an issue, they’ve figured out how to work the system for their sponsor.


Young people will continue to demand their right to a healthy inheritance when their elders fail to act on their metaphoric cathedrals. Knowledge and education can’t be sequestered anymore. Democracy is intended to serve everyone in its borders. Reality says it serves best those who take responsibility to make it work for today and tomorrow. Youth-motivated leadership and actions could reach a tipping point in this century to catch responsibility into their increasingly capable hands. Who is government supposed to serve? There are two kinds of people, those who focus on something to gain, and those treading water over something to lose. Democracy must move forward with its people and with energy, gusto and everything to gain.


© Robin Jourdan 2019

Tags:  democracy  governance  politics 

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How selfish is self-interest?

Posted By Robin Jourdan, Friday, July 12, 2019

Robin Jourdan checks the possibility of replacing individual selfishness by global self-interest in her seventh blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.


Industrial Revolutions have been instrumental in changing the landscapes of the world for centuries, including social, economic and governance. The first through fourth industrial revolutions mark human history since the Middle Ages. Each era represents certain technological advances: from use of coal and electricity, to miniaturization and digitalization. But, what about tomorrow’s worlds? The quickly approaching 5th industrial revolution focuses on sustainability and humanity in equal proportion to technological advances.


Having a presence in the digital world has evolved rapidly in the past 20 or more years: 84% of people could have a digital presence by 2025. In our connected world, digital life is becoming linked to a person’s physical being. This digital representation sets up certain positive expectations. It will also bring along negative concerns like greater perceptions of self-importance.


Increased connections create a new kind-of nervous system across the planet. So much that we can experience the pain in other parts of the world. Increased is empathy that any population is more than a collection of workers as an input of capitalism. Instead, they are residents whose dignity, well-being, and health must be considered. Urbanization booms and new technologies introduce advanced engineering, design, and construction. They also contribute to new thinking about sustainability and health in a place. Results intend to support aspirations of humanity, perhaps replacing individual selfishness with worldwide self-interest.


The next half century may bring changes to institutions and rules that govern access to justice. Global technical inexperience may shift due to greater awareness of interference and other technology-based insecurities. Prized future technologies will help individuals maintain privacy, own and control their data, and decrease censorship into the latter half of this century. It is unmistakable that recent environmental turnarounds elevate China’s influence today. Beijing has shown that significant pollution reforms are possible and are providing a model for others to follow for decades.


Identity politics influence Western economics and policies today. Identity politics can influence social cohesion by giving greater voice to often marginalized populations. Such greater voice amplifies skepticism and dispassionate reasoning; key to strengthening decision-making. Democratic governance, often conflated with unfettered growth and exploitation, sets up unnecessary contention with sustainability. In the approaching 5th IR world, greater voice is given to sustainable systems than ever before. Incentivizing responsible actions that benefit all (including future generations) may help restore trust in both capitalism and democracy.


Out of necessity, deliberative and technocratic councils may declare water and air to be of strategic importance to protect them. Though competent, technocratic leadership can appear distant, and challenging to understand. It is further wounded by decisions made at the cost of slow, non-public debates. Gaps in public conversation, give and take can leave a perception of inaction. Coupled with distastefully polarized arguments may cause people to turn to private sector solutions. A danger of this leadership is that it offers a single-minded vision, often built by a charismatic mover-shaker and not by the self-interests of the community. There is a strength from the participation of a wide range of entities challenging perceptions of futures possible.


Thriving in a 5th Industrial Revolution world means that technology for its own sake isn’t the blanket nor disruptive answer anymore. New possibilities rely on thinking and communicating differently about futures. Traditional analyses centered on technology, business entrepreneurship, and growth-at-all-costs are incomplete to deliver future success. In a sense, this line of thinking is outdated. By contrast, understanding and articulating futures that include a vision of social justice, environmental and economic sustainability, and widespread cultural change is key. Understanding change maps to possible future outcomes. Impacts on people are why we ponder those outcomes. Though easier said than done — the result: Individual selfishness replaced by global self-interest.


© Robin Jourdan 2019

Tags:  democracy  selfishness  sustainability 

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Can democracy solve our wicked problems?

Posted By Administration, Thursday, April 18, 2019

Robin Jourdan checks the possibility of solving wicked problems by democracy in her fourth blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.


We are living in an age of wicked problems. These are problems that generally have a social or cultural component that makes it difficult to solve. They’re more often complex, connected to other grand-scale issues, a substantial economic burden, and often incomplete knowledge. Wicked problems as a marketing concept didn’t come into being until the early 1970s.


Historic wicked problems would include polio, cholera, typhoid, cancer, poverty, and more. Often these problems created a sense of fear, vulnerability, uncertainty, chaos, and ambiguity. Out of control societies witnessed break-downs in politics, economics, and culture. What these problems had in common included a lack of knowledge over things like hygiene, sanitation, microbes. In other instances, what was lacking often was the political willpower to create the needed changes.


Democracies haven’t yet solved these problems due to many factors, some technical, some social, some political. For example, approached with caution and skepticism, often analysts tackle the wrong question in such a complex challenge set. In the West, think tanks and research laboratories are most often charged with finding an answer. Problems and solutions can be overly politicized and at the mercy of wrong motivations. Science and education can be discounted as elitism and fakery. This adds to the challenge.  The same people who would doubt climate change science will stop eating broccoli when science says it’s contaminated.


Technocratic and autocratic strengths and weakness are the reliance on technological solutions. If based on short-term incentives, these technologies allow us to continue in our ignorant ways. Then we blame the technology when they fail. Thus, devices alone are incomplete solutions for global woes. Overreliance on this path alone may also widen the gap between solutions and willingness to implement them. Incremental thinking relying on today’s think tank structure will continue to face skepticism from the general public.


Short-term thinking spurred by economic priorities will compete for resources in these systems as well. Governance systems that can marshal enormous amounts of resources are likely to be positioned well for moving the needle on solutions as is seen by China's checkbook diplomacy and internal focus on climate change solutions. This assembling vast amounts of resources itself isn’t the lone tool, as squandering resources will increasingly be frowned upon.


A key lesson from success over these past wicked problems is the need to get to a long-term, root cause understanding. Systems thinking is a tool that can support and enable transitioning to that longer-term thinking.  Root cause understanding and multi-nation cooperation often result in action.  Such will no doubt be aided by technologies, perhaps yet to be discovered. This complements a most significant ingredient to past victory over specific wicked problems: diligence and resilience during the sometimes-long journey.


As the future is further transformed, the longevity economy will likely have specific influences as well. When people live longer, the higher the chance they will face the outcomes of decisions guided by short-term thinking. Having the ability to simulate results by way of systems thinking and problem-solving, but not acting logically regarding them would reveal illogical mindsets.


Democracies as a social construct rather than a governance system support the conditions to share what is learned on the march. This is not to suggest that the steps nor the efforts are easy or linear. Adequate investment and emotional diligence are needed are not traits ascribed to a single governance system. However, in a democracy, people can create a groundswell of interest, urgency, and memory to challenge political priorities accordingly.


© Robin Jourdan 2019

Tags:  democracy  governance  wicked problems 

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Is faith in democracy in crisis?

Posted By Administration, Friday, March 15, 2019

Robin Jourdan examines trust in democracy in her third blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.


 Is trust in democracy in crisis today? No, and yes. The Pew Research Center (2017) reported that nearly 60 percent of countries worldwide are operating democracies; an all-time high. But, fewer than 20 are in practice “fully democratic” governments.


Conversely, economic-governance policies like the democracy-connected Washington Consensus are in decline today, some wonder if “faith” in democracy is endangered. Of course, what is meant is “trust”. Democracy can creep into despotism and dictatorship in response to distrust of leaders and growing inequality, both seemingly abundant today. News sources tell us that young people worldwide are increasingly disillusioned with democracy. This disillusion grows out of feelings of betrayal from political gridlock and ineffective governance. Globally, they are less partisan rather than less democratic in their leanings.


Social intelligence signals that when party affiliation becomes a religious, tribal-like identity, the odds stack against compromise as is evidenced today. Some put the blame on information glut, wars, and lack of credibility. How might this impact a world leaning more on technologies that are increasingly connected and autonomously sensing for a command-triggering fact?


Facts aren’t the problem. They are uncomfortable, sometimes inconvenient, and a free society must allow for them. The phrase “post-fact” is a coping mechanism for those reacting to facts that cause them to question their belief systems. Politics and politicians spin and lie. Always it has been the case. When prominent voices in the room change the facts to fit their view of the world, it’s concerning.  Note that people over age 50 are worse than younger people at distinguishing falsified facts.


The public has faced railroading before. Minstrels and magicians did this as a show. Playing this out to the later-half of this century means an intensification of today’s overwhelming news flow; to game the system and grow distraction. Without efforts to also raise our collective social intelligence, the most vulnerable will live in a dystopia. Incremental improvements do little if polarization grows. Fact-checking costs to businesses may become financially unsustainable. Mountains of data and a further breakdown in public trust poses a potent risk.


If technology isn’t the provider of trust in the second half of this century, it must rest with us. For example, if 100% of birth certificates are issued; this has the potential to shift society in a transformative manner. Birth certificates document the birth of a person. Once supplied, the contractual obligations with the government begins; i.e., access to the rights, privileges, and consumption of citizenship. Shockingly, millions today don’t have this vital record.


When a consumer doesn’t trust a brand to deliver on its promises; if afforded choices, they vote with their wallets. Every brand has to build trust, i.e., faith, even if that brand is governance.


When we feel the system is rigged against us, disillusionment grows. Intelligence must evolve to stay ahead of the magicians. Not to learn how the trick is done, but know that it is a trick. Democracy isn’t a given: it is messy. Democracy isn’t an economic system. Consumers of democracy win so long as they have trusted options available. This is not true in systems that limit choices and access to them. Faith in a democracy means to believe in the people to decide; and if flawed, trust to choose again. 


© Robin Jourdan 2019

Tags:  democracy  politics  trust 

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Can the world be made safe through democracy?

Posted By Administration, Monday, October 15, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Craig Perry, a member of our Emerging Fellows program examines the possibility of making a safer world by means of democracy. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

From a realist perspective, international relations amounts to little more than a power struggle among states, each of which acts essentially the same, regardless of its particular nature. Like billiard balls ricocheting off one another in an anarchic game of realpolitik, states amount to “black boxes” whose external behavior reveals nothing about their internal workings—or so the theory goes. But a growing body of empirical evidence suggests democracies can behave quite differently than other states, with profound implications for the future of warfare.

The Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant was first to recognize that a world of constitutional republics might someday bring perpetual peace, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that liberal democracy became widespread enough to put his hypothesis to the test. Since then, study after study has found that wars between mature democracies are indeed less common than conflicts involving other kinds of states. Kant anticipated this phenomenon would come about because citizens who bear the human and financial costs of war would naturally be cautious if empowered to authorize hostilities. Furthermore, democratic political norms favoring compromise and respect for human rights tend to make republics a bit less bellicose—at least when dealing with states similarly governed.

This democratic peace theory comes with a caveat, however: When confronted by autocracies, democracies are just as likely to wage war as any other state. Aggressive imperialist, fascist, and communist regimes repeatedly learned this lesson during the 20th century, often finding that their democratic rivals could mobilize superior political and economic resources when provoked. On the other hand, autocratic regimes that transitioned to democracy—such as Germany and Japan following World War II— became much less threatening to their neighbors, as Kant’s hypothesis predicted.  

Given these developments, it’s not surprising that the United States and its democratic allies came to view the promotion of democracy around the world as a matter of self-interest. Whether inspired by liberal ideals or neoconservative concerns, “making the world safe for democracy” became synonymous in many Western circles with making the world safe through democracy—that is, pressuring autocratic regimes to adopt democratic reforms, by force if necessary, for the sake of both national security and human rights. Sadly, American diplomatic and military efforts since 9/11 to spread democracy at gunpoint ended in disaster, arguably making the world less safe.

Compounding this trend is the troubling decline, after decades of almost uninterrupted progress, in the number of fully functioning democracies around the world. Illiberal regimes have come to power in Venezuela, Turkey, Hungary, and elsewhere around the world, and the erosion of democratic norms in the United States has undermined America’s soft-power appeal and claims to leadership of the so-called “free world.” Nevertheless, reports of democracy’s death are greatly exaggerated; for all its flaws, the social, economic, and, yes, security benefits of this form of government still greatly outweigh any alternatives, and it is likely to further spread in the future.

Although democracy has undoubtedly reduced warfare among its practitioners, it is unlikely to diminish the potential for great-power conflict anytime soon. On the contrary, Western democracy-promotion efforts have exacerbated tensions with Moscow, which blames Washington for the “color revolutions” that overthrew friendly regimes in Ukraine, Georgia, and across the Arab world, while Beijing is wary of any political liberalization that might undermine the Community Party’s hold on power. Consequently, Russia and China have emerged as exemplars of authoritarian governance, undemocratic alternatives to the United States in a multipolar world. Meanwhile, America’s emergence as a great power actually led to its war-making deliberations becoming less democratic. Congress has gradually ceded its constitutional authority over national security issues to the president, while the voting public has largely lost interest in military matters since the end of mass conscription and the advent of an all-volunteer force. Under such circumstances, great-power behavior can often bear a striking resemblance to billiard balls after all.

© Craig Perry 2018

Tags:  democracy  liberal democracy  soft-power 

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