At year end, Foreign Affairs presented one of its best of 2018 essays to its readers, The End of the Democratic Century - Autocracy’s Global Ascendance, by Yoscha Mounk and Roberto Stefan Foa, which was originally published in Foreign Affairs May/June 2018 Issue. This article made an observation and concluded that the Democratic Century (of 20th Century) has ended. The authors attributed the failure of democracy to the change of economic landscape and the decline of the wealth and share of world economy of the U.S. led West. Mounk and Foa cited political scientists Adam Przeworski and Fernando Limongi that poor democracies often collapse, only rich democracies—those with a GDP per capita above $14,000 in today’s terms, are reliably secure. Since the formation of the postwar alliance binding the United States to its allies in Western Europe, no affluent member has experienced a breakdown of democratic rule (government). The authors further emphasized the effect of economy by stating that “absolute levels of wealth may have been just one of many economic features that kept Western democracies stable after World War II. Indeed, the stable democracies of that period also shared three other economic attributes that can plausibly help explain their past success: relative equality, rapidly growing incomes for most citizens, and the fact that authoritarian rivals to democracy were much less wealthy.” Overall, the authors strongly latched on the correlation between the success of democracy and its successful economic state and vice versa.
Mounk and Foa then sounded an alarm that the economies of the democratic nations have been declining for the past three decades. Among thirteen countries with per capita GDP above $20,000, two thirds of them are having an authoritarian government. Thus they proclaimed the end of Democratic Century with a bleak chance of reviving. Mounk and Foa further argued that strong economy translated to strong military power and great soft power which could help promoting democracy and maintaining a stable democracy. However, they noted that the re-growth of economy in the West would not be optimistic and the soft power of the non- democratic countries had increased steadily gaining self confidence. Therefore, they concluded with a pessimistic view: “the long century during which Western liberal democracies dominated the globe has ended for good. The only remaining question now is whether democracy will transcend its once firm anchoring in the West, a shift that would create the conditions for a truly global democratic century—or whether democracy will become, at best, the lingering form of government in an economically and demographically declining corner of the world.” They further proclaimed: “Hopes that the current set of democratic countries could somehow regain their erstwhile global position were probably vain. The most likely scenario, then, is that democracies will come to look less and less attractive as they cease to be associated with wealth and power and fail to address their own challenges.” They are pinning hope on that “authoritarian countries would find principles of liberal democracy appealing once they enjoyed a comparable standard of living..... If China were to do so, it would end the authoritarian resurgence in a single stroke.”
I have no objection to Mounk and Foa’s principal point that there is a correlation between successful economy and the stability of Democracy, however, I must point out the illogical conclusion they made about the deterioration of economy in the West democratic nations were the cause of the end of democracy century and the rise of economic performance in authoritarian states accelerated the end of democracy century. I shall present my arguments below to show that one must analyze the cause of economic decay in democratic societies in order to understand why democratic governments failed with failing economy. In fact, I shall argue that it is the liberalism that caused the downfall of democratic governments. Liberalism is responsible for the decaying of economy. Decaying economy with no cure exposed the ineffectiveness of a democratic system. Mounk and Foa’s essay had treated this serious topic with a surface level observation, thus missing the link between the end of the democratic century and liberalism. In the following, I shall discuss why the liberalism is the real culprit for the end of democratic century. The infusion of conservatism and socialism into liberalism and capitalism may produce sustainable strong economy under either a democratic or authoritarian government.
First, let us clarify a few conceptual terms. Democracy is not necessarily a political ideology. Democracy, employing voting as a method to elect public servants, government structure and/or policy and legal matters, whether through a representative scheme or a direct one person one vote scheme, does not necessarily define political ideology. In fact, voting is being used in different degree nearly in all political systems (governments). The political system (government) and the political philosophy behind the system actually define ideology. An ideology including conservatism, liberalism, capitalism, nationalism, communism or socialism and/or their combination and/or modifications may be adopted and practiced by any government whether it is democratically created (by voting) or not. (a royal empire with a king or a queen or a leader obtained power through his or her people’s choice, party’s designation or any other mixed methods). The liberal democracy, Mounk and Foa referred to, is the democratic government adopting and practicing liberalism and capitalism, led by the U.S.
If one examines deeper why the economy of the liberal democratic countries had declined in the past three or four decades, one cannot help but notice that the liberalism is responsible for their economic failure. Liberalism encourages individualism, promotes liberal ideas with no fiscal constraint and divides society into many self-centered factions destroying the philosophy of ‘majority rule’, the most important merit of democracy. Activists representing many factions of special interest groups elect divided and counteractive government branches rendering government ineffective in decision making and inefficient in policy execution. This phenomenon is clearly exhibited by liberal democratic governments’ perennial budget deficit, huge national debt, infrastructure construction impedance, bloated welfare burden and poor economic planning, in many cases leading to bankruptcy. So correlating failing economy with failing democracy is like correlating drug addiction with death by overdose, meaningless. Expecting authoritarian countries with successful economy to turn to liberal democracy is like wishing a live person to choose living in a coffin, laughable. Democracy is only effective and desirable when it has a right ideology behind it to uphold the majority rule principle, i.e., the voters must accept proper dosage of conservatism to curtail run-away liberalism and adopt suitable level of socialism to balance class-generating capitalism with unselfish idealism. In a nut shell, adopting the appropriate ideology to make the government effective to produce a good economy for the people is the key issue, not any voting scheme or any specific form of democracy. China is a living example, perhaps, to have placed defining her ideology (finding a Chinese political and economic philosophy and system by combining and tweaking capitalism and socialism) as her main focus to develop and sustain her economic growth. Keeping one party system and applying ‘democracy’ within that party while fine-tuning her ideology (not exporting her system) seems to have worked for China for the past four decades. Will China turn to liberal democracy after her per capita GDP passes $20,000? It is doubtful, since the Chinese elites seem to have understood how the countries like Greece, Italy, Republic of Congo, Latin America (poverty issue) failed with their liberal democracy.