Democracy is in crisis around the world. Why?


It’s all too easy to become obsessed with our domestic political turmoil. President Trump, after all, has fired the attorney general and FBI director to protect himself from investigation, tried to prosecute that same FBI director along with his defeated political opponent, described the media as the “enemy of the people,” trafficked in blatant racism and xenophobia, misused troops for political ends, spread fraudulent theories about voter fraud to undermine his political foes, and lied with impunity and abandon.

Democracy is under siege in the United States — but not just in the United States. It’s a worldwide crisis. Democracy has already been destroyed in Turkey, Egypt, Venezuela, Thailand and Russia, and it is now being undermined in Poland, Hungary and the Philippines. Chancellor Angela Merkel, the bulwark of the West, is on her way out in Germany. Emmanuel Macron, France’s centrist president, is battling record-low approval ratings. And in Britain, the Conservative Party is tearing itself apart over Brexit, making more likely an election that could bring to power a Labour Party led by an anti-Semitic neo-Marxist.

What in the name of John Stuart Mill is going on? How did we go from hopes of an “end of history” in the 1990s to fears of an “end of democracy” today? We are confronting two intersecting crises: an economic crisis and a refugee crisis.

The economic crisis has been brought about by the Information Revolution, which, like the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, is transforming society beyond all recognition. The Industrial Revolution created immense fortunes for the Rockefellers, Carnegies, Goulds and other “robber barons” but also great misery for millions of ordinary people who had to leave the countryside to live in grimy cities and work in backbreaking factories. The result was what Benjamin Disraeli described as “two nations” — the “rich and the poor” — “between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets.”

The growing inequality and social dislocation of the industrial era gave rise to radical new ideologies such as Marxism, fascism and anarchism at the very time that new technologies — principally printing presses that made it possible to produce cheap newspapers and magazines, followed by radio and film — gave radical ideologues access to a mass audience for the first time. As T.E. Lawrence said: “The printing press is the greatest weapon in the armory of the modern commander.” ...

Read entire article at The Washington Post

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