The Undemocratic Future of 21st Century Liberal Democracy
Authors: . Fernando Lopez-Alves
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What is the future of liberal democracy? Is the “liberal” ingredient of 21st century
democracy compatible with its “demos”? Are developed democracies more
equalitarian and less stratified than other regimes? Or are present day democracies
evolving into something different that needs a new definition?
By the early 1990s liberal democracy appeared to have become the dominant system
at a global scale. The hope of citizens, scholars, and observers was that the stride
toward broader democratization and inclusion would continue. It did, but as this
paper argues, the forms adopted by democratic regimes, especially under the fourth
industrial revolution, are not necessarily democratic. Rather, liberal democracies
have created a new aristocracy that includes high tech monopolies, extremely skilled
professionals, and a selected intelligentsia that from social media, conglomerates, and
many times Hollywood, supports this new stratified version of the democratic polity.
Family dynasties, clientele networks, and mechanisms of reward and punishment
reminds us of the pseudo democracies of the late 19th century.
Surely the dwindling middle class in developed democracies still have some consumer
power based on credit. Global markets offer many more available consumer goods
than in the past, creating the illusion that all is going well. Comparatively, however,
democracies are doing worse. As this paper shows, 21st century liberal democracies
have concentrated wealth in fewer hands than in the recent past, have favored power
centralization especially in the executive branch, have stimulated the formation of giant
high-tech monopolies, and have generated more rigid forms of social stratification.
Liberal democracies, therefore, are weaking, in many cases as the logical consequence
of the natural evolution of the liberal doctrine, and in most cases because of profound
changes at the global scale. Citizens’ confidence in their elected representatives has
been in the decline for a long time. The increasing influence of populist nationalism
is an indicator that confidence in traditional politicians continues to deteriorate.
Democracy could not be democratic without the popular vote, but it has been precisely
the popular vote that has empowered populist nationalist leaders, both from the right
and the left. There is not very much that democracies can do about the coming to power via the ballot box of leaders who can rework the system in their favor and, in
some cases, destroy it.
As the paper shows, changes in the international system of power have not been
favorable to liberal democracies, adding to its burdens. They are no longer the optimal
model of choice, especially in the less developed world. Finally, I claim that the broken
promises of political elites that have traditionally provoked voters’ apathy and loss
of trust, have, In the 21st century, created new unintended consequences. They have
generated illusions of entitlement and deservingness that, especially young voters,
have converted into a sort anti-democratic culture that cares less for the collective and
much more for themselves.