06 February 2017

The New York Times: “How Stable are Democracies? ‘Warning Signs are flashing Red’”

Political scientists have a theory called “democratic consolidation”, which holds that once countries develop democratic institutions, a robust civil society and a certain level of wealth, their democracy is secure.

For decades, global events seemed to support that idea. Data from Freedom House, a watchdog organization that measures democracy and freedom around the world, shows that the number of countries classified as “free” rose steadily from the mid-1970s to the early 2000s. Many Latin American countries transitioned from military rule to democracy; after the end of the Cold War, much of Eastern Europe followed suit. And longstanding liberal democracies in North America, Western Europe and Australia seemed more secure than ever.

But since 2005, Freedom House’s index has shown a decline in global freedom each year. Is that a statistical anomaly, a result of a few random events in a relatively short period of time? Or does it indicate a meaningful pattern?

Amanda Taub

This article had a fascinating trajectory online: widely shared at first, then disputed as people started digging through the data behind the ‘horror graph’, and finally defended by the author on Twitter with more graphs supporting his conclusions. While I haven’t looked at the data, the examples named in the article (Venezuela, Poland, the US) seem to support the theory in question. The truth is democracy is just as unstable as other systems of government, undermined from within by false propaganda and fearmongering used to manipulate voters. The majority of the current generation in Western democracies don’t know any other form of government; it’s easy to see the flaws in the democratic process and to push for change when you haven’t experienced any of the alternatives.

Percentage of people who say it is essential to live in a democracy
Percentage of people who say it is “essential” to live in a democracy
Source: Yascha Mounk and Roberto Stefan Foa, “The Signs of Democratic Deconsolidation”, Journal of Democracy | By The New York Times

Post a Comment