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Standing up for liberal democracy

E.J. Dionne Jr. on

But history is starting to scowl as once-solid democracies (Hungary, Poland and Turkey, along with many outside Europe) move in an autocratic direction. China, meanwhile, offers a path to development and growth that involves neither freedom nor democracy.

Even where liberal democracy has its strongest foundations, authoritarian brands of populism have gained ground by exploiting widespread discontent. Luce is especially powerful when taking to task those at the global economy's commanding heights for failing to address the stagnation of middle- and working-class incomes. "The world's elites have helped to provoke what they feared: a populist uprising against the world economy."

In 2017, there has been something of a liberal democratic comeback -- in France, the Netherlands and, it would appear from the polls, Germany. Movements of the far right are (at least for now) receding. My Washington Post colleague Fred Hiatt recently pointed to "the Trump boomerang effect" as other nations learn from the mistake the United States made in November 2016.

And we should not petrify ourselves with too many comparisons between our time and the 1930s. On the eve of World War II, as the historian Ian Kershaw reminds us in "To Hell and Back," his monumental history of Europe from 1914 to 1949, three-fifths of Europeans lived under authoritarian regimes -- a calculation that does not even include Stalin's Soviet Union.

We are far from such a catastrophe, but I'm grateful to Luce and others for warning us not to take liberal democracy for granted. When liberal democrats become arrogant and forget that governments have an obligation to create the circumstances for widespread well-being, autocrats will always be there offering security and prosperity in exchange for less freedom. Liberal democracy must be defended. It must also deliver the goods.

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E.J. Dionne's email address is ejdionne@washpost.com. Twitter: @EJDionne.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

 

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