There is little doubt that the world is experiencing a democratic recession. In the accounts of the NGO Freedom House, since 2006, more countries experience deterioration than advances in their democratic systems. And the pandemic didn’t help. In 2020, 73 countries lost points against just 28 who won — a balance of -45, the worst ever recorded by the organization.
Is this erosion here to stay or is it something transitory? Sometimes looking too closely for the most confusing indicator that lights up. A good analogy is stock exchanges. A chart with the daily variation of the indices is a dizzying up-and-down. One that shows its evolution year by year or every decade may better reflect the valuation of companies.
Democracy is no different. If we use the lens of decades and centuries instead of years, the expansion of democracies is obvious. In Steven Pinker’s 1971 accounts, only 31 countries could be considered democratic; today they are over a hundred. Two centuries ago, only 1% of the world’s population lived under democracies; today it is 75%.
Clearly, however, past success is no guarantee of future success. The fact that democracy has advanced in recent centuries does not mean that we do not need to strive to maintain it.
Although the tide is ebbing, there are signs that it may be turning. Signals are more qualitative than quantitative, but they should not be overlooked. The most visible of these was the defeat of Donald Trump. There are other poster boys for neo-authoritarianism at risk.
In Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu seems to have his days numbered. He managed to form against himself the most unlikely of coalitions, which brings together sectors from the extreme right to the left, passing through the Arabs. In Hungary, a broad front is being formed with the aim of defeating and dethroning Viktor Orbán. If fashion catches up, maybe we’ll get rid of Bolsonaro too.
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