Looking across the globe, it might appear at times that violence, chaos and fear are getting the upper hand over order, democracy and reason.
The world has always been a messy place, of course, and it may be that the internet and social media give the worst of times more prominence than the best.
But there are real reasons for anxiety. Traditional democratic ideals and institutions are under attack. Some leaders in Eastern Europe espouse “illiberal” democracy, which treads on traditional human rights. Authoritarian leaders from Russia to Venezuela grow stronger; Kim Jong-un of North Korea defies the world in his pursuit of a doomsday weapon. And the United States under Donald Trump becomes more bitterly divided and unpredictable.
Historically, however, there has also been pushback, a rejection of oppression and despotism. It brought about the end of apartheid, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, the acceptance of more than a million refugees in Germany.
Countries rarely embrace democracy as their first choice; they have often tried monarchies, oligarchies or other forms of coercive government first. They come to democracy because, for all its messiness and inefficiency, it is the way to give people a voice in how they’re governed, and to allow them to change leaders peacefully. But it can never be taken for granted. It is constantly confronting challenges and threats and adapting to changing times.
© 2018 Serge Schmemann. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate