In March, The Economist ran, once again, a deliberately provocative cover. It featured a pedestaled statue of a figure depicting democracy and the scales of justice with a garbage can over its shoulders. Underneath was the question: "What's gone wrong with democracy?"
The answer, at least according to the article, is a whole lot. "Where autocrats have been driven out of office," it argued, "their opponents have mostly failed to create viable democratic regimes." The condemnation went even further: "Even in established democracies, flaws in the system have become worryingly visible and disillusion with politics is rife."
To be sure, all over the planet we see systems in democratic, semi-democratic or aspiring-democratic countries that are seriously embattled. Why? In the "aspiring-democratic" category, it's pretty clear that the kind of wholesale changes in political systems in developing countries (think Arab Spring) cannot be achieved quickly or easily. For the "semi-democratic" countries, continuing on the democratic pathway in the global context of disruptive social and economic change is also easier said than done. The same observation applies even to democracy's most trumpeted veterans. Put it all together, and you can easily reach the bottom-line conclusion advanced by The Economist that, "democracy's global advance has come to a halt, and may have even gone into reverse."
What to do? I think we can begin with a careful assessment of how the conditions of contemporary democracy are changing. I'm currently at our CEO Retreat in Cartagena, Colombia, (which concluded a successful democratic election last weekend!), joined by two eminent thinkers on the subject of democracy and power who will be speaking—Francis Fukuyama and Moisés Naim. Frank will have the second volume of his sweeping look at "The Origins of Political Order" this fall, and in my view it should be required reading for any current political leader. Likewise, Moisés’ book "The End of Power" provides extraordinary insight on how the essence of power has changed and is changing.