Liberal democracy as we’ve come to understand it over the last century is vulnerable from every angle. Democratically-elected leaders with autocratic leanings are using the very tools of democracy – elections, constitutions, political parties, the media – to undermine the system.
They consolidate power by fanning the populist flames of contempt for the establishment and claiming that elitist institutions suppress the “true will” of the people. Even in places where checks and balances are proving resilient, those who globalization left behind – on both the left and the right – are transforming the inequality that has defined their lives into a nostalgic battle cry to recover something undefinable but decidedly lost. Manipulation of information through both fake news and hyper partisan views has created a chasm between citizens that is beginning to seem irreversible. No democracy is immune, and many question if we shouldn’t just walk away and find an alternative model.
And yet, there is reason for hope. Democratic backsliding has exposed underlying issues that have always existed, meaning we have an opportunity to address and repair systemic injustices that some claim prevented democracy from ever truly working as it was meant to.
Our task at the Washington Symposium is to shine a light on the path that will restore faith in democracy, but first we will need to identify and address the critical threats it faces – from without and within.