What will "democracy" mean, for the next generation?
At the moment, Western democracy has a pretty good image. It’s associated with things like: freedom, prosperity, wealth, justice, progress. I'm not saying that democracy actually causes those things; I'm not saying it doesn't. What I mean is that when most people think of democracy, those are what springs to mind, I think. Democracy today has a pretty good image.
Many people assume that democracy will always be attractive, although only a few have been bold enough to say it. But this wasn't always true, and maybe it won't be. 10 years from now, what will people think of when they hear the word “democracy”?
That all depends what happens. Suppose things get worse in:
Egypt, Libya: Democracy (at least in theory)… violence, extremists, civil war.
Europe: Democracy… riots, poverty, panic.
America: Democracy… deadlock, paralysis, decline.
I'm not saying democracy really caused those problems or would be responsible if they get worse. Correlation isn't really causation, but psychologically, it feels like it is (that's why we need reminding so often that it isn't.) I'm just summarizing the news headlines from the past couple of years and assuming they continue.
I'm not saying those headlines are justified, either; the media exaggerate, but this is all about perception, and like it or not, people see headlines. And of course there are other old and new democracies around the world that are doing fine - but good news doesn't make the front page.
Put it all together and it doesn’t look so attractive.
This matters. The USSR ended because the people of the USSR looked West and saw a better life. Now there's an assumption that something similar is bound to happen eventually in those countries that are 'still' not democratic. We assume that they will look at democracy and think: me too! For that matter, we assume that most people in a democracy would not vote to end democracy.
But what if democracy loses face?
This hasn't happened yet. It has only just begun, and hopefully can be prevented. Europe today, even Greece today, is surely more attractive than the USSR 1989... but things could get worse, and then where will democracy be?