The Global Decline of Democracies: Is the World Stepping Towards Authoritarianism?
This article will try to analyze why and how the phenomenon of the global decline of Democracies is occurring and will conclude by assuming how we can overcome and resist this rapid decline of democracy.
The 21st century is witnessing several significant global political issues, such as terrorism, migration, climate change, intolerance, and the decline of democracy and the liberal world order. All these are the leading problems that gave a push to the ideology of authoritarianism in the global world. Trump's rise, the Brexit vote, the rise of the AFD in Germany, the failed military coup in Turkey, Russia's aggressive rise under Putin, and the victory of Meloni in Italy are all examples of the global rise of authoritarianism. This article will try to analyze why and how this phenomenon is occurring and will conclude by assuming how we can overcome and resist this rapid decline of democracy.
Since 1991, after the destruction of the Soviet Union, the international community somehow affirmed that the world order would become more liberal and democratic in nature. The new world order was conceptualized as Unipolar in the early 1900s, but later, it provided space for new rising powers to grow. The beginning of the 2000’s witnessed the rise of many small and big powers, including Russia, China, India, ASEAN, and so on. After the destruction of the Soviet Union, it was believed that Socialism as an authoritative state of governance was not enough. It requires some liberal and democratic character to prepare a peaceful global world. But as soon as powers started growing, globalization touched its height; parallelly, it also led to some major drawbacks. Several serious worldwide political challenges have emerged in the twenty-first century, such as the 9/11 attack, growing terrorism, migration, civil wars in the middle east, climate change, and intolerance, giving pace to the decline of democratic and liberal world order.
As a political system, authoritarianism asserts the rejection of political plurality, the use of strong central power to maintain the political status quo, and decreases democratic voting. The Human Rights Foundation's study suggests that authoritarianism and tyranny may be the greatest issues now plaguing humanity. More than half of the world's population—nearly 4 billion people—reside under the reign of tyrannies, absolute monarchs, military juntas, or rival authoritarians. The decline of democracy around the world reportedly picked up speed in 2020, according to the Freedom House study on its projections for 2021 on freedom in the world. There is a widespread call for walls, which is seen as a securitization process and a component of the post-democratic global order. States are now more concerned with national security, safety, and the restoration of the historically illustrious past. Global socioeconomic disparity, a backlash by disadvantaged groups for their rights, and doubts about the rights of women and racial minorities are the results of this.
To deepen the discussion, we can see the work of Fareed Zakaria, "The Rise of Illiberal Democracy," where he claimed that the world is facing the decline of democracies. Due to the rise of several illiberal characters, especially the states that are not able to protect individual rights, are stepping towards authoritarian states. The liberal order of the state essentially means that, despite what the majority may believe, you cannot restrict the right to free speech, to practice your faith, or to form an association. But in today's world, increased governmental corruption, greater limits on free expression and assembly, press censorship, retaliation against political rivals, and minorities' subjugation are giving rise to an illiberal world order. Zakaria also made a point that being illiberal and being anti-democratic are two different things. He distinguished between democracy and liberalism, two concepts that are frequently confused. Democracy is about the engagement of the people in the process of selecting leaders. Contrarily, liberalism is concerned with the standards and customs that influence political life. Individual liberties are vital in a fully liberal state. It safeguards the person from both the abuses of a tyrant and the abuses of democratic majorities. Similar to this, if we look at the current world order, it truly combines elements of both liberal and conservative characteristics where people are only permitted to conduct a limited extent of activities and are forbidden from doing anything that goes against the government's ideology. This implies that the liberal idea is in serious trouble.
The major factor that has evolved to give rise to authoritarianism is globalization and right-wing reaction. This new strain of authoritarianism is a right-wing reaction to the problems caused by globalization. It is funded and financially supported by some of the largest and most powerful businesses, who employ it to target left-leaning social groups and prevent the rise of socialism as a viable alternative to global capitalism. Global capitalism is turning to authoritarianism and fascism due to the crisis of neoliberal globalism, as we approach the threshold of another economic crisis and the possibility of war and as the world economy is in peril. Reduced transparency, the promotion of false or misleading information, and restrictions on the dissemination of unfavorable information or critical viewpoints were goals of repressive governments and populist politicians.
Another claim expressed in César Rendueles' writing is that the 2008 financial crisis served as fuel for the creation of the illiberal international order, which resulted in the rise of authoritarian regimes. The political system broke down as a result of the economic crisis, which gave rise to poverty and inequality. Neoliberals created aggressive ways to manage the miseries rather than resolving this crisis effectively, leading to the weakening of public institutions, greater social fragility, cultural decay, and political polarization. These also gave a boost to opposing forces, including regressive populism, xenophobia, religious fundamentalism, and identitarian forces. These movements initially held the view that democracy is an unstable form of government. It cannot bring peace, and harmony and cannot be a way of life.
Ivan Krastev made another major assertion that the primary cause behind the crisis of liberal world order is the loss of trust and faith of people in democratic institutions, such as censorship, majoritarian representation, neglecting minority interests, and spreading of obstructive conspiracy theories. He also considers the decline of the USSR in the 1990s and the lack of alternatives to capitalism as contributing factors that distorted the liberal world order. Liberal democracy, which came as a tool to secure the interest of the minority, became a power of majoritarian rule, which created a drift between the principle of democratic majoritarianism and liberal constitutionalism.
Some scholars attribute the downfall of the liberal world order and the global move to authoritarianism to structural change. I believe there is a critical need to reconceptualize democracy, professional politicians must meet the expectations of the masses, and we must globally resist the emergence of authoritarian regimes. To combat this global shift towards authoritarianism, we need to boost constitutional liberalism along with democratic principles. Both are complementary to each other, and only the merging of both can lead towards peaceful world order. If we assume that democracy is merely liberal, it would be incorrect as democracy may also result in authoritarianism by encouraging group affiliation and discussion of the collective voice instead of being focused on individualism.
Disclaimer: This paper is the author's individual scholastic contribution and does not necessarily reflect the organization's viewpoint.