David Stasavage in Aeon:
Today, many people see democracy as under threat in a way that only a decade ago seemed unimaginable. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, it seemed like democracy was the way of the future. But nowadays, the state of democracy looks very different; we hear about ‘backsliding’ and ‘decay’ and other descriptions of a sort of creeping authoritarianism. Some long-established democracies, such as the United States, are witnessing a violation of governmental norms once thought secure, and this has culminated in the recent insurrection at the US Capitol. If democracy is a torch that shines for a time before then burning out – think of Classical Athens and Renaissance city republics – it all feels as if we might be heading toward a new period of darkness. What can we do to reverse this apparent trend and support democracy?
First, we must dispense with the idea that democracy is like a torch that gets passed from one leading society to another. The core feature of democracy – that those who rule can do so only with the consent of the people – wasn’t invented in one place at one time: it evolved independently in a great many human societies.