The new world order — born in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union as a superpower — was to be accompanied by an unprecedented wave of freedom and democracy across the planet.
So what happened?
The Boston Globe’s Joshua Kurlantzick today uses Thailand as an example of a receding wave. The streets of Thailand have been crammed with protesters wearing the color of the former monarchy, demanding an end to the reign of the democratically elected prime minister. Last week, they got their wish.
The events unfolding in Thailand are part of a gathering global revolt against democracy. In 2007, the number of countries with declining freedoms exceeded those with advancing freedoms by nearly four to one, according to a recent report by Freedom House, an organization that monitors global democracy trends.
How could this be? Blame the middle class, Kurlantzick says.
As a country develops a true middle class, these urban, educated citizens insist on more rights in order to protect their economic and social interests. Eventually, as the size of the middle class grows, those demands become so overwhelming that democracy is inevitable. But now, it appears, the middle class in some nations has turned into an antidemocratic force. Young democracy, with weak institutions, often brings to power, at first, elected leaders who actually don’t care that much about upholding democracy. As these demagogues tear down the very reforms the middle classes built, those same middle classes turn against the leaders, and then against the system itself, bringing democracy to collapse.
“Elected dictators” are not just a problem in Thailand, but Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina, Indonesia, and — the big one — Russia, the poster child for tension between pro- and anti-democracy forces.
Which leads us to the obvious question: How does the U.S. respond to this?
Asked last week if the U.S. should go to war with Russia if it invades Georgia, vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said, “Perhaps so. I mean, that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally, is if another country is attacked, you’re going to be expected to be called upon and help.”
How serious is the wane of democracy? Serious enough that even some of the most conservative Republicans are willing to ignore it… and the consequences of battling it. “If the Russians are ready to go to war on its borders — and they are — and the United States is not prepared to wage war on their borders — and we’re not — we ought to just stay out of it,” commentator Ben Stein said this morning on the CBS program, Sunday Morning.
With fewer than 50 days until the presidential election, how to respond to the end of the democratic wave might be worth talking about.