Works in Progress: How fragile is democracy?

My personal views are not so much “pro-democracy” as much as “pro-anti-authoritarianism.” However, “anti-authoritarianism” means different things to different people. Some people prioritize different kinds of anti-authoritarianism over others, which is why we also need pan-decentralism and free federation. Some people value the right to possess firearms over the right to smoke marijuana or vice versa. Some favor the right to practice religion over the right to have gay sex and vice versa. Some favor the right to workplace democracy over the right to own a business and vice versa. Some favor freedom from discrimination over freedom of association and vice versa. Athens can be Athen and Sparta can be Sparta.

By Michael BluhmThe Signal

Democracy is in retreat almost everywhere. This year is certain to become the 16th consecutive year when the U.S.-based nonprofit Freedom House will record an overall decline in its measures of democracy in countries around the globe. In the United States, the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol revealed the disregard some Republican partisans have for election results and democratic rules, and the party has taken even more anti-democratic steps since then, passing state-level laws to suppress voting and install partisan election officials. Meanwhile, China is cracking down on civil liberties in Hong Kong and supporting the rise of authoritarianism globally. Both China and Russia are hacking into critical infrastructure in Western countriess, for espionage and for ransom. In Russia, President Vladimir Putin’s party brazenly falsified the results of recent national elections. Even in democratic countries, leaders have eroded democratic institutions and enacted authoritarian laws in India, Brazil, Turkey, and Tunisia. Is democracy losing to authoritarianism?

Fredo Arias-King leads the board of directors of the Casla Institute, a Prague-based nonprofit that shares the lessons of post-communist transformation with reformers in Latin America, and a speaker at this week’s Oslo Freedom Forum in Miami. Raised in Mexico, he’s written extensively on democratic transitions in Latin America and Europe. Despite all the turmoil around the world today, Arias-King is confident in the long-term prospects for democracy. In his view, the democratic backsliding we see in many countries, such as Poland and Hungary, is only a temporary setback. From a broader perspective, he says, many of these places were totalitarian or authoritarian states not long ago, so their troubles today shouldn’t call into question the longer arc toward greater democratization. As Arias-King sees it, today’s problems are often rooted in economic insecurity or migration caused by rapid globalization, as extremists on the left and right exploit nationalist feelings or other emotions for political gain.


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