Democracy on the Edge: Where Do We Go from Here?

Abdelmoumen
4 min readOct 21, 2023

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Watching the news, with its accelerated events around the world — from wars, conflicts, marches, and moral issues to the new movements of the past few decades — leads one to question the future of governance, or more specifically, government.

Illustration by BIRN

It is clear that democracy is not experiencing its best days. Given that it’s the predominant system most countries currently adopt, I felt compelled to explore its future.

The Future of Governance

Before discussing the future of this system, let’s consider the major factors influencing democracy. Firstly, there’s the international relationships and cooperation with world leaders, especially those with different regimes and governance systems. At the top of the list, we find the two largest GDPs after the USA: China and India. On the other hand, there’s the USA’s direct rival: Russia. The dynamics between the USA and these countries significantly impact global governance systems. Additionally, international institutions, associations, banks, etc., contribute to the democratic paradigm, making it function under a mix of legal systems and standards that historically have evolved.

So, how will social behavior and systems evolve in the coming years?

To envision the future, we should reflect on the past. In the 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, many assumed liberal democracy would prevail. Yet, as Hamish McRae revealed in his book “The World in 2050” (published in 2050), even in the early 1990s, there were predictions of a populist rebellion against the liberal elite in the US.

Liberal democracy has always faced threats from various movements and systems. Due to its flexibility, it remains susceptible to influences from the left, right, enemies, and even advocates of direct democracy.

According to McRae, democracy faces two primary challenges:

  1. The underwhelming social and economic performances of many democratic countries since 2008. Official figures show a relative stagnation in GDP growth, contrasting with the significant GDP increase in countries like China and India, which aren’t fully democratic.
  2. Political and social challenges. Facing issues such as Covid, the war against Ukraine, and various social movements, politicians often struggle to respond effectively. McRae notes, “It’s almost as if mainstream politicians have become disconnected from ordinary people’s hopes and values.” This growing divide raises questions about the potential for a populist revolt.

Another concern is that powerful countries, like the USA, sometimes dismiss international institutions they established post-WWII. One recalls Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement of 2015, which was later reversed by Joe Biden.

Can Democrats Lift Their Game?

Observing current events and politicians’ responses, particularly Democrats, one wonders about the effectiveness of their policies. Often, policies appear based more on public opinion than evidence. Analyzing politicians’ campaigns reveals tendencies to cater to special interest groups. McRae observes the oddity of politicians operating on ‘beliefs’ and ‘platforms’.

The recent pandemic tested democracies worldwide, revealing a trust deficit between citizens and their governments. OECD statistics from 2021–2022 indicate only 31% of US citizens trust their government, compared to 39.5% in the UK and 43.4% in France.

Given these challenges, can Democrats improve their performance? Probably not. So, what’s the alternative?

Many in our society live by “enjoy the moment”, implying temporary satisfaction with current systems. This fluidity in societal attitudes raises concerns about the shifting moral foundations underpinning our governance. While societal norms have evolved throughout history, it’s evident that the current trajectory may lead to significant changes in the coming decades.

Two potential pillars of change include:

  1. Economic success: Post-WWII, the USA surged in economic and technological fields, setting the global standard. However, since the 2000s, there’s been a decline in the USA’s share of global GDP. Meanwhile, countries like China, India, and Russia, which aren’t strictly democratic, have experienced remarkable growth in various sectors.
  2. Societal beliefs and values: The multiplicity of movements and ideologies within democratic societies often leads to conflicts among groups with differing perspectives. Democracy, being inherently flexible, struggles to set clear boundaries amidst these competing currents, potentially leading to societal instability.

Considering the fragility of democracy and the ever-changing global landscape, what might the world look like in 20–30 years?

One of my favorite quotes is, “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.” Given the current trajectory, two potential scenarios emerge for democracy. In an optimistic scenario, western democracies successfully address societal demands, creating harmonious coexistence. This task, admittedly, seems Herculean. The alternative scenario is less rosy, with nations mired in conflicts, driven by national rivalries and ideologies.

In conclusion, history teaches us that no system endures forever. Democracy, like any system, has had its era of dominance. The global landscape over the next thirty years will be shaped by a myriad of factors, and only time will reveal the ultimate trajectory of our governance systems.

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Abdelmoumen

Business consultant. Exploring politics, history, and tech through analytical storytelling. https://linktr.ee/abdel_m23