As I read Stephen M. Walt’s post at Foreign Policy:
In Russia, China, India, Turkey, Egypt — and yes, even here in the United States — one sees either resurgent authoritarianism or a yearning for a “strong leader” whose bold actions will sweep away present discontents. According to democracy expert Larry Diamond, “between 2000 and 2015, democracy broke down in 27 countries,” while “many existing authoritarian regimes have become even less open, transparent, and responsive to their citizens.” Great Britain has now voted to leave the EU; Poland, Hungary, and Israel are heading in illiberal directions; and one of America’s two major political parties is about to nominate a presidential candidate who openly disdains the tolerance that is central to a liberal society, repeatedly expresses racist beliefs and baseless conspiracy theories, and has even questioned the idea of an independent judiciary. For those of us committed to core liberal ideals, these are not happy times.For those of us committed to core liberal ideals, these are not happy times.
I was overcome with the feeling that the world had turned upside down.
I agree that mobocracy isn’t the same as a liberal democratic system. By what stretch of the imagination is the UK’s voting to leave the European Union illiberal? The EU is undemocratic, elitist, and, well, German. By what definition of “liberal” is the EU liberal?
“Liberal” is supposed to mean supporting freedom. An undemocratic system of government may be liberal if it acts to support freedom but I see no evidence that’s what the EU is striving to do. Quite to the contrary I think it’s micromanaging governments to suit German preferences, frequently to the benefit of Germany and Germans.
I think the word that Dr. Walt is searching for isn’t “liberal” but technocratic. He’s mourning the loss of an imaginary world, designed by experts on behalf of everybody. What we’ve been approximating is a world designed by experts on behalf of experts and their patrons. That’s not remotely democratic and there’s nothing liberal about it.
Further, I think you can only imagine a rising tide of liberal government if you ignore about half of the world. Is replacing Saddam Hussein with sectarian government a triumph of liberalism? Replacing Moammar Qaddafi with chaos? China is not remotely liberal. Neither is the Hindu nationalism that has emerged in India over the last 35 years. Those are national socialist governments, not liberal ones.