Democracy is on the ropes. So what are we going to do about it?


Democracy is taking a bashing. On almost every continent, attempts to extend the right of people to choose their own government is running into deep trouble. In Iraq, Egypt, Ukraine, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and many other countries, democracy is being overwhelmed by despotism and despair.

A commonly heard response is that Western democracy is not for everyone, that what works in our society does not automatically work elsewhere. Another is to suggest that we should not try to spread democracy to the rest of the world; it is none of our business.

Both views are mean and short-sighted. If the United States abandons democracy in the rest of the world, not only is the rest of the world sunk but tyranny will soon be heading our way as voting laws here become more restrictive.

It was 25 years ago, prompted by the collapse of Soviet communism, that Francis Fukuyama, now a Stanford professor, argued that the world had reached "the end of history" and that liberal democracy and free market capitalism was its final phase. It was now only a matter of time, he said, before the rest of the world caught up with the U.S. and Western Europe and ran their affairs along democratic lines.

At first he appeared to be right. Under the final Communist leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, Russia abandoned Marxism-Leninism and the Eastern European vassal states it had oppressed since World War Two liberated themselves. For the first time, countries like Poland and Ukraine voted freely. The onward rush toward democracy soon spread, culminating in a great wave of democratization in the Arab nations of North Africa and the Middle East.

Now that grand vision looks hopelessly naïve. Russia soon reverted to its default position: rule by despot, whether it be Peter the Great or Josef Stalin. Under the pretext he needed to restore order to a gangster nation, Vladimir Putin imposed a regime both oppressive and xenophobic. Human rights have been abandoned, Putin's opponents are arbitrarily jailed, and elections have become a farce.

The old Warsaw Pact countries in Eastern Europe fared better for a while, but even there true democracy often proved elusive. As a condition of joining the European Union, former Soviet vassal states had to hold free elections, guarantee the rule of law and safeguard individual human rights. Some countries did not need prompting; others found that old ways die hard.

As soon as they were EU members, some governments - of both left and right - reneged on their commitments and retreated into "managed democracies" or "electoral autocracies." Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Romania, among others, abandoned true democracy and returned to a form of dictatorship. Despite efforts by the EU to promote democracy, many Eastern European leaders have played the West off against Russia.

What happened in Ukraine is typical. Having struggled for years to become democratic, the regime in Kiev was told it could not join the EU until it had set up a system of justice that would free political prisoners, among them former prime minister Yuliya Tymoshenko. It was during this hard bargaining with the EU that Putin made a counter-offer larded with rubles that the then Ukrainian premier, Viktor Yanukovich, quickly accepted, setting off the coup and the country's present troubles.

Elsewhere, the Arab Spring has sprung. Egypt set the tone for its Arab neighbors by in 2011 ousting its dictator, Hosni Mubarak, and electing Mohamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, who dismantled democratic safeguards and imposed Islamist restrictions on the country's Western-leaning population. Egypt's failed experiment in democracy was overturned by the military under Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who earlier this month was elected president in Morsi's place. Events in Libya and elsewhere echo this trend.

In the West, there is endless hand-wringing over the failure of Iraq's democratically elected prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to keep his splintered nation together. Those being singled out for blame are: President Barack Obama, for not pressing Maliki to permanently station U.S. troops in the country and for not prodding him hard enough to involve the Sunni minority; President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair for overthrowing the murderous tyrant Saddam Hussein; and even François Georges-Picot, Mark Sykes, and Gertrude Bell, who drew the borders of Iraq a century ago.

Voters have gone to the polls in Afghanistan to elect a new president, but there is little hope that once American and Allied troops leave the country that it will not be torn apart by the Taliban and the warring tribal chiefs who run the territory beyond the capital. Again, Western attempts to introduce democracy appear to have been a waste of lives and money.

A woman holds balloon with al-Sisi picture as Egyptians celebrate after the swearing-in ceremony of President elect Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, in front of the Presidential Palace in CairoBeyond those who are using the current turmoil in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and Ukraine for domestic political purposes, there is a general feeling among Americans that, having fought two wars for 10 years, it is time for the U.S. to pull back from the world. Neo-isolationism - the modern iteration of the popular movement that kept America out of World War Two for three years - is on the rise and leaders on both right and left are happy to ride the wave.

If only those abandoning the quest for democracy abroad would spend as much energy ensuring that democracy here is in good shape. Instead, it is often the very people who are calling for America to withdraw behind its borders and let the rest of the world hang who are helping the retreat of democracy at home.

One of the best gauges of democracy is how many citizens take part. In the 2012 presidential election, only three out of five Americans could bring themselves to vote. Why? Democracy in America is under attack.

The gerrymandering of constituency boundaries to ensure one-party rule; widespread attempts to alter rules governing who can vote and when on the pretext of non-existent voter fraud; and the Supreme Court's decision in Citizen's United to allow corporations to give vast amounts of money to the campaigns of those who will do their bidding on Capitol Hill - all make a mockery of American democracy.

It was not always so. Brave American and Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy 70 years ago this month to free Europe and the world from Nazism. They did not flinch from promoting democracy, restoring it to those who had lost it through Axis occupation and annexation, and trying to extend it to the colonies of their fellow Allies.

With the very notion of democracy at risk, even in America, it is worth recalling the words of Winston Churchill, who for six long years urged free people to rise up against tyranny. "No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise," he said. "Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government - except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

Democracy, like a marriage, takes work if it is to survive and prosper. Amid the clamor to abandon our efforts to help democracy flourish around the world, it must be constantly nurtured both at home and abroad. There is nothing more likely to inspire democracy elsewhere than the example of democracy making a difference to ordinary Americans' lives here at home.

With polls showing Americans reluctant to intervene to help struggling democracies, it would be easiest for politicians, particularly prospective presidential candidates, to fall in with the public mood. But, with memories of D-Day anniversary celebrations fresh in our minds this month, it is worth recalling that 75 years ago it was bold and ingenious leadership inspired by the noblest of motives that encouraged the Greatest Generation to put their personal self-interest aside and hurl themselves in to what would undoubtedly be their finest hour in freeing the world from tyranny. (Nicholas Wapshott)

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2014.

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

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As usual the author makes the classic mistake of linking "liberal democracy and free market capitalism" as if they're inseparable.

Under liberal democracy anyone trying to bribe an elected representative should be arrested, and any elected representative accepting a bribe should likewise be arrested and removed from their position. Under free market capitalism everything is for sale, up to an including elections. It is no coincidence or fluke that the most reliable predictor of which individual will win the U.S. elections (at state and national levels) has become how much they spend on their campaign.

Quite simply, democracy has become another commodity for sale.

The solution is simple. Much like we separate religion and democracy, so we also need to separate our economic and political systems.They're simply incompatible.

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Liberal Democracy

Free Market Capitalism

two things that haven't existed in AT LEAST a hundred years IF EVER.

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'Democracy' in many countries is just a plutocracy, it costs a lot of money. There are very few poor politicians, and the ones that were seem to become disproportionally rich in a very short time. Their residual wealth when they leave politics is much higher than the total salary they received, suggesting that they were the best politicians that money could buy...

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Under liberal democracy anyone trying to bribe an elected representative should be arrested, and any elected representative accepting a bribe should likewise be arrested and removed from their position. Under free market capitalism everything is for sale, up to an including elections. It is no coincidence or fluke that the most reliable predictor of which individual will win the U.S. elections (at state and national levels) has become how much they spend on their campaign.

Are you saying that a closely organized socialist system is less vulnerable to corruption or graft than a free market capitalist system?

I come from America, and in the area where I used to live, a number of politicians have been arrested for corruption over the past decade. Who, you might ask, was arrested? The country sheriff, the county elections supervisor, the mayors of two cities, two members of the board of education, the supervisor of elections, and the directors of both the airport and seaport. You might be surprised to learn that in America, corruption is generally weeded out as quickly as it is found, and the federal prison system houses a large number of former politicians. That isn't to say that they all are caught, but at least the level of corruption is kept at a lower pitch than it would otherwise be.

The problem with a democratic system is that for it to work properly, the voters need to be responsible, objective people, who are capable of independent thought. From personal experience, I know of few voters who possess these virtues.

Most voters are manipulated by the powers-that-be into one of two political parties. These parties are taught to fear and dislike each other's ideals or beliefs, and they are so busy doing so that the powers-that-be can do more or less whatever they want. When election time rolls around, they start instilling fear into their well-trained parties, telling them that if the other side wins, they will lose their guns, abortion rights, freedom to pray, environmental protection, etc. And the foolish members of each party fall for these stories over and over again. If you wonder why almost all congressmen and senators are reelected each year when the job approval rate of the congress is only 18% (supposedly lower than cockroaches), now you know.

As gaijinfo said, we have never had a true liberal democracy or unfettered free market capitalism. Such systems severely limit the power and authority of a ruling class. We have never had freedom without conditions, nor the ability to trade without some form of regulation. Those who create the conditions and regulations do so less for the well being of individual people than for the purpose of maintaining a ruling class. Unfortunately, people are like sheep, and are too afraid to be entirely responsible for their own destiny, so they elect a shepherd and sheepdogs to protect them, take care of them, and tell them what to do. In exchange, they give up much of their wool. But in such systems, the shepherd and the sheepdogs eventually begin to take meat as well.

The decline of more widespread democracy probably has much to do with the decline in American influence. The last three or four American presidents have done little or nothing to maintain or increase America's prestige or influence around the world. The vacuum in power is now being filled by more authoritarian systems like China, Russia, and Islamic fundamentalism. Complain as you like about America, where would you rather live? In America, China, Russia, or an Islamic-fundamentalist state?

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Lol the author might want to check the history of Marxism before drinking the liberal koolaid.

First republics are what works not the mob of sheeple rule of pure democracy.

Second capitalism is an economic method, the only one that works and began the moment one pop resonance bartered something of value to another. Yes simpletons, barter is capitalism in it's simplest form. And this author spouted the Marxist fantasy that capitalism and democracy are linked as Well as the insane Marxist belief that capitalism is somehow the problem.

So the author began with the insane belief that democracy is falling as if there is something better and then he wants to ask what to Do about it.

Nothing. Freedom is something taken, held and protected. If a people are too stupid to depose presidents,tyrants,thugs,kings,cheiftans and clerics for their own freedom and will not use a Republic or similar to protect their liberty then those people deserve the life of misery they are choosing. In the 21st century it is not difficult to know what liberty is and to learn theocracy, Marxism, communism, fascism, tribalism are all tyrannies and only bring misery to everyone But the rulers of these dystopias. Each person is free, any society or government putting country,government,community,religion before the individual is wrong. So Do nothing, no reason to help people who can look at Republics and capitalism, ignore both and then allow themselves to be oppressed.

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This is a package of old and tired cliches.

Capitalism can exist anywhere. In social democratic Sweden or Communist China. A complete picture of the assault on democracy one must include the history of the US overthrowing democratic governments and supporting tyrannies. Iran had a democratic government but the CIA overthrew it and installed the Shah.

Inequality is the greatest threat to democracy in the US is gross economic inequality.

The end of history business was bunk to begin with. Flux is the nature of life. At the moment the flux is pretty dreadful.

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I'd say unsustainable and falling apart rather than on the ropes from some lack influence. Cheap gas and oil with lots of exports until developing nations finally caught on.

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In Iraq, Egypt, Ukraine, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and many other countries, democracy is being overwhelmed by despotism and despair.

No, it's being overwhelmed by military force (Egypt, Ukraine), inertia (Afghanistan), corruption and lawlessness (Pakistan), military force and outside money (Iraq), and, ok, despotism (Russia). None of these countries ever were paragons of democracy.

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What are we going to do about it? Stay informed! Write about the successes and even the failures of democracy that you see and hear about! Contact other like-minded people. Ask questions! Make a "stink" if necessary! Don't just watch democracy fail. You are part of our democracy! Add your voice!!!

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As gaijinfo said, we have never had a true liberal democracy or unfettered free market capitalism. Such systems severely limit the power and authority of a ruling class.

This is where ignorance of history works against people. Anyone can mark times when the USA's economic pendulum -- if using the U.S. as an example -- swung on the side of extremely low taxation and regulation. One such time was in industrial boom that started in the late 1870s and 1880s. This is where many of the "ruling class" -- the Morgans, Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, etc. became just that. There was no "big government" at that time and once free market competition had run its course, U.S. industry found itself dominated by a handful of monopolistic mega-companies and banks.

No, free market systems don't limit the power and authority of a ruling class. Only checks and balances do that. And there needs to be checks and balances on economic power just as there needs to be on political power. The birth of big, activist, progressive government in the U.S. came about as a response to the massive business oligopolies, starting with the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Unions started to spring up to counter an autocratic management that demanded 10+ hour days and 6-day workweeks.

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