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    Brave New World

    How Stable Are Democracies?

    Brave New World
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    John Harrison
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    There is an assumption that once a country becomes a liberal democracy and attains so-called ‘democratic consolidation’ it stays democratic. Research, however, indicates that liberal democracies around the world are declining. Why?

    Joining the program to share his views on this subject is Michael Walzer, an American political theorist, and Professor Emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.

    Michael says that the theory whereby countries remain democratic for ever once they have attained ‘democratic consolidation’ is not a very secure and reflects the complacency of political scientists. Many political theorists, Michael says, would not have the same degree of confidence in institutional stability. Michael’s main point is: “we were taught long ago by Jean-Jacques Rousseau that what he called a ‘Republican government’ — which is very close to our democracy — could not survive if the citizens were too unequal… I think this is a good part of the story…”

    Data is quoted from ‘Freedom House’ regarding the number of countries which have lost or are losing their ‘free’ status. Some of these countries reflect what is happening to ex-Soviet Republics which did not have a “very strong institutional base, or a very strong civil society and the same thing happened in South America.” The reverse transitions do reflect countries’ histories, Michael says, but maintains that they also reflect rising globally inequality.

    Discussion turns to the very origin of the idea of equality and Michael indicates that this begins in the 18th century with the French revolution and the American revolution, “which saw the birth of leftist politics advocating a defence of both democracy, universal suffrage and equality.” Michael makes a claim that there is a linkage between democracy and equality.

    In the second half of the program, signs that indicate the disintegration of democracy are discussed, and an example is provided by America, where Michael says: “we see the rise of a demagogue, efforts to repress the independent media, the rise of what we call ‘fake news,’ the growing power of the executive branch, and an increasingly incompetent congress.” Michael points out that there are growing number of Americans who seem responsive to demagoguery and authoritarian rule. “Exactly how many and who they are is not clear… I do think that Hillary Clinton’s defeat had more to do with the simple fact that she is a woman.”

    The situation is Europe is also discussed and the point is made that immigrants are being used one way or the other to further non-democratic interests. Michael however sees liberal democracy surviving the next 10 years, “but a lot depends on the activity of citizens who value democracy, that is why I am so encouraged by what we call the ‘resistance’ to the Trump administration here in the United States. If you had been marching here in New York a couple of weeks ago you would have felt a certain buoyancy which bodes well for the next few years.”

    In short, the survival of democracy depends on whether we allow inequality to grow to ridiculous proportions, or not.

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