Is democracy in danger? Well, it depends on where one looks and who looks. For example, The Economist Intelligence Unit reported in the latest update of its Democracy Index last January that democracy continues its disturbing retreat with more than half the countries in decline. However, in a recent paper(1), Daniel Treisman from UCLA concludes that:
… the global proportion of democracies is actually at or near an all-time high; that the current rate of backsliding is not historically unusual; and that this rate is well explained by the economic characteristics of existing democracies. I confirm that breakdowns tend to occur in countries that are poor, have had relatively little democratic experience, and are in economic crisis. Extrapolating from historical data, I show that the estimated hazard of failure in a democracy as developed and seasoned as the US is extremely low—far lower than in any democracy that has ended in the past.
These are just two examples. Scarcely a day goes by without a new analysis or opinion by influential voices in academia and the media, but the truth is that we do not know. And this is the most disturbing because it happens the same when we look at other important pillars of our society, like liberalism, progress, and the like. I would even say that the more data we have and the more eyes looking at it, the more room to get lost in speculation…. We simply don’t know.
What I know is that, for all the innovation I have seen in my short life―short because life is short, not because I am young―I have not seen a significant change in the way we govern ourselves. Democracy is supposed to be the operating system of our free societies, or at least a fundamental component of it, but alas, there has not been a single new release of code for years and years. And it is not for a lack of interesting proposals, ranging from the relatively simple to implement to the purely speculative so far…Meanwhile, autocrats are taking advantage of new technologies(2) to refine their dark arts.
Democracy is what we make of it, and I wonder: what are we trying to make of it? and what are we waiting for?