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A Democratic Doomsday?

For years, liberal democracies have been beset by deepening political polarization, declining confidence in the rule of law, and widespread institutional decay. With the COVID-19 crisis accelerating these trends, the need for a clear strategy to defend liberal democracy has become more urgent than ever.

MADRID – In 1947, two years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were decimated by nuclear bombs, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists launched the Doomsday Clock to convey the world proximity to annihilation – and to spur action to “turn back time.” Today, it is worth considering the need to create a clock to show how close our democracies are to collapse. On such a Democracy Doomsday Clock, we would be rapidly approaching midnight.

Liberal democracy is founded on the idea that individuals acting rationally in their own interest will produce good outcomes. But almost every aspect of this premise has been eroded in recent years. For starters, widespread income stagnation and soaring inequality, especially since the 2008 financial crisis, are hardly outcomes that most rational people would choose.

Moreover, waning trust in institutions has undermined the conditions individuals need to make informed decisions. Traditional media, long expected to serve as gatekeepers of information, have been coopted and bypassed by online sources, whose business model encourages them to attract readers by playing to their beliefs and interests, often through the dissemination of false or misleading information.