Liberal Democracy’s Crisis of Confidence
Special to the Journal of Democracy
Liberal democracy is experiencing a crisis of confidence. Scholars and pundits may disagree about the nature and depth of the problem, but few would argue that nothing is amiss. Commentators decry an increasingly familiar list of trends, including weakening civil liberties, eroding democratic norms, rising nativism, and growing support for parties and leaders whose commitment to democratic values and practices seems shaky. Progress toward democracy has been stalled or reversed in many emerging and developing nations, while several wealthy, supposedly “consolidated” democracies have experienced significant and unexpected setbacks.
These anxieties are being driven not only by subjective observations of political dynamics, but also by a growing body of data. Indices designed to measure the health of democracy generally tell a similar and dispiriting story. Freedom House’s 2018 Freedom in the World report found democratic declines in 71 countries, while only 35 registered improvements, marking the twelfth year in a row in which the organization has documented a deterioration in democracy around the world.1 The Economist Intelligence Unit likewise reported a global decline in democracy in 2017, with particularly worrisome trends for free speech and media freedom.2
Read more at the Journal of Democracy