Waning democracy

The fall of communism did not lead to greater democracy, as many predicted. While the liberalization of the world economy brought new wealth to a number of countries, particularly in Asia, this growth often came as part and parcel of a new form of authoritarianism. This form of government, exemplified in Singapore, rests on a form of implicit agreement between the rich and the middle classes to abdicate politics to the professional administrators, in exchange for which they receive an almost unbounded mandate to accumulate wealth. As George Scialabba writes: 

The key to this development is the emergence of a cautious, disenchanted middle class. Political theorists in the West have generally assumed that democratic freedoms grow in tandem with a middle class strong enough to hold the state to account and diverse enough to require political competition, which in turn requires freedom of speech. But democracy has been getting a bad name among its purported bearers, taking the rap for political chaos and economic stagnation.

Similar forms of government now exist in diverse places such as Russia, China, India, and Italy. All this points to a tension between liberalism in the economy and democracy in politics–a tension that has been papered over in the West since the 1980s.

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