Is democracy dead?
Democracy is in a steady and now obvious decline. The rule of law is now on the defensive worldwide, attacked by a variety of leaders in a manner the world has not seen in a hundred years.
Proponents of open societies with decentralized power structures, free and diverse media, robust judicial powers to enforce the rule of law, and shared economic and political resources are few and far between. In societies with free speech, they are drowned out by louder, uglier media. In societies already in crisis, these voices are simply silenced in the middle of the night.
Democracy is dying. Perhaps there will be a renaissance in our futures, but at present, forces of authoritarianism are plainly in their ascendancy.
In the U.S., democratic freedoms have been long under assault, particularly after 9/11 when the threat of terrorism has been used as a cover to greatly expand the power of the state, and in particular, the Executive branch.
Combined with historic (and still growing) wealth inequality, we are plainly living in a world where the very rich have a greater command of resources and government power than at any time since the Roman Empire.
In fact, if nothing changes, a very likely future is a world where ostensibly "democratic" countries have really become soft dictatorships. Viktor Orban's Hungary and Recep Erdoğan's Turkey are fast becoming a template for a new form of governance where those in power claim the consent of the governed, but are really powered and propped by privileged elites who support their rule.
These types of soft demagogues make no bones about their efforts to consolidate their power by dismantling the rule of law and funneling public funds to their cronies and lackeys. And they routinely use racists and xenophobic tropes to create fictional enemies to scare the population.
Many of these soft dictatorships will probably sputter along. But many will turn to outright dictatorship or fascist regimes, particularly as the Earth continues to get hotter, climate more severe, and resources more scarce.
The grave environmental challenges of the future could push countries into adopting totalitarian states quite easily. And with totalitarianism come the Four Horsemen: war, poverty, disease and death, riding a pale horse.
Democracy is a living, breathing thing. But we treat it like a machine that never needs maintenance, or a statue that never needs polishing. We assume that because we can name it, we are always entitled to it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our precious human dignities, our political, social, economic and cultural freedoms -- history shows they are all too easily taken away when they become inconvenient to the powerful.
We need modern Heroes to defend democracy, people who understand that the political struggles of the future will overlap and coexist with spiritual growth. It is only by harmonizing the two challenges can we envision a world that is truly at peace and truly in balance with itself.