- Documents on Democracy
Prague Appeal for Democratic Renewal
On May 24–26, scholars and democracy activists convened in Prague for a conference hosted by Forum 2000 entitled “Toward a New Coalition for Democratic Renewal.” Participants discussed the formation of a coalition to defend democratic principles and to facilitate the exchange of strategies to address contemporary challenges to liberal democracy. The conference culminated in the issuance of an “Appeal for Democratic Renewal.” Among the signatories were Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich, philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, political scientist Ivan Krastev, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Anne Applebaum, Cuban activist Rosa María Payá, and Hong Kong legislator Nathan Law. The full text of the Appeal follows:
Liberal democracy is under threat, and all who cherish it must come to its defense.
Democracy is threatened from without by despotic regimes in Russia, China, and other countries that are tightening repression internally and expanding their power globally, filling vacuums left by the fading power, influence, and self-confidence of the long-established democracies. The authoritarians are using old weapons of hard power as well as new social media and a growing arsenal of soft power to create a post-democratic world order in which norms of human rights and the rule of law are replaced by the principle of absolute state sovereignty.
Democracy is also being threatened from within. Illiberalism is on the rise in Turkey, Hungary, the Philippines, Venezuela, and other backsliding democracies. In other countries—even long-established democracies—support for liberal democracy has eroded in recent years, especially among younger people who have no memory of the struggles against totalitarianism. Faith in democratic institutions has been declining for some time, as governments seem unable to cope with the complex new challenges of globalization, political processes appear increasingly sclerotic and dysfunctional, and the bureaucracies [End Page 184] managing both national and global institutions seem remote and over-bearing. Compounding the difficulties, terrorist violence has created a climate of fear that is used by despots and demagogues to justify authoritarian power and restrictions on freedoms.
Such problems have caused widespread anxiety, hostility to political elites and cynicism about democracy—feelings that have fueled the rise of anti-system political movements and parties. These sentiments, in turn, have been stoked and inflamed by authoritarian disinformation, which increasingly penetrates the media space of the democracies. The latest Freedom House survey shows that political rights and civil liberties have been on the decline for eleven consecutive years, and this year established democracies dominate the list of countries suffering setbacks in freedom.
Collectively, these factors—the geopolitical retreat of the West, the resurgence of authoritarian political forces, the erosion of belief in democratic values, and the loss of faith in the efficacy of democratic institutions—have brought a historic halt to democratic progress and threaten a possible “reverse wave” of democratic breakdowns. Democracy’s supporters must unite to halt the retreat and to organize a new coalition for its moral, intellectual, and political renewal.
The starting point of a new campaign for democracy is a reaffirmation of the fundamental principles that have inspired the expansion of modern democracy since its birth more than two centuries ago. These principles are rooted in a belief in the dignity of the human person and in the conviction that liberal democracy is the political system that can best safeguard this dignity and allow it to flourish. Among these principles are fundamental human rights including the basic freedoms of expression, association, and religion; political and social pluralism; the existence of a vibrant civil society that empowers citizens at the grass roots; the regular election of government officials through a truly free, fair, open, and competitive process; ample opportunities beyond elections for citizens to participate and voice their concerns; government transparency and accountability, secured both through strong checks and balances in the constitutional system and through civil society oversight; a vigorous rule of law, ensured by an independent judiciary; a market economy that is free of corruption and provides opportunity for all; and a democratic culture of tolerance, civility, and non-violence.
These principles are being challenged today not only by apologists for illiberalism and xenophobia, but also by relativist intellectuals who deny that...