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The move away from liberal democracy becomes a stampede

  • Western governance model loses appeal even among US allies, with some looking to China as a better guide
  • US bodies’ which claim to spread democracy in Asia are widely recognized as political manipulators working for American interests
  • Media feigns blindness to acts of US interference, still sees liberal democratic values as Sacred Cow and departures from it as unforgivable sin

IT’S OFFICIAL: THERE IS MORE than one type of democracy. And the people of planet Earth are steadily backing away from the Western liberal flavor, towards Asia-style mixed models. A new study, the latest in a long series, confirms that the world’s citizens want stronger leadership, not more democracy.

While several studies have delivered the same message, the latest is raising eyebrows for two reasons. The first is that comes from organizations known for their strong advocacy of Western liberal democracy: the statistics come from V-Dem (a Sweden-based think-tank with a funders list that includes George Soros and the US government); and the analysis is by the politically liberal New York Times, home of endless criticism of the leaderships of China, Russia and Hong Kong.

Asians are daring to take their own path; Image by Ryoji Iwata/ Unsplash

The second reason is that the study reveals that liberal democracy is losing support fastest in the United States and its allies: places which are discovering problems in Western governmental systems by actually trying them out.

Americans are unhappy with their own crumbling democratic systems, and the study highlights four US allies which have recoiled from Western democracy to what’s sometimes called the “strong man” leadership model, with democratic elements existing under a strong, charismatic head of state: the four are the Philippines, Hungary, Turkey and Israel. All have grown stronger under leaders which are popular and arguably successful, but are nevertheless repeatedly painted by the Western media as “the wrong sort”.


But perhaps even more shocking is what the latest studies say about America’s prolific programs of interference in other nations—which have always been justified by their claim that they are bringing Western liberal democracy to people who need it.

They neither need it, want it nor benefit from it. The opposite is clearly true in some cases.

“Washington has long sold itself as a global champion for democracy,” says an analysis of the V-Dem statistics by the New York Times’ Max Fisher. “The reality has always been more complicated.” (That last sentence is surely the Understatement of the Year.)

Protests in Bangkok, 2020; image by Prachatai/ Wikimedia Commons

Fisher quotes political scholar Thomas Carothers, who says that America’s constant messaging that its activities around the world were designed to spread democracy “was never really true”.

The US backed and financed groups with no interest in whether they were democratic or the opposite – but simply to grow support for itself and destabilize perceived enemies.

“It backed or installed dictators, encouraged violent repression of left-wing elements and sponsored anti-democratic armed groups,” Fisher writes.

The US admits a huge degree of interference from a distance, but from close-up, its diplomats and journalists insist it doesn’t exist or has no effect

Independent journalists and Asian writers have constantly attempted to highlight this interference, pointing out that the National Endowment for Democracy is just one of several US organizations that spent millions of dollars a year fostering discontent in Hong Kong, Bangkok and elsewhere, often preferring to work with bigoted, pro-violence, pro-independence groups who in no way represent the actual residents.

US has often favoured groups that openly urged violence; picture by Oscar Chan/ Pexels

But voices trying to say this have been drowned out by the dominant Western news outlets, which routinely ignore or trivialize allegations about US interference in Asia, and instead publish articles which support US/ NATO foreign policy objectives, harshly criticizing Asian leaders for the sin of moving away from the standard tenets of Western liberal democracy, which require universal suffrage and zero controls on what can be printed or broadcast.


Other studies have reached similar conclusions about the retreat from liberal democracy. “Whatever is driving people towards strongmen is affecting entire countries, not just cohorts within them,” said the Economist magazine last year, reviewing the findings of the World Values Survey. Young people in particular prefer the strong leader model, the magazine said.

The blended model, more common in Asia, sees citizens happy to give up some of their democratic rights in return for stronger leaders.

The US “flavor” of the Hong Kong protests was hard to miss: images like this were printed in most news media

A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that only 17 per cent of people in the countries surveyed thought their communities should follow the US model.

“Very few in any public surveyed think American democracy is a good example for other countries to follow,” Pew researchers concluded.


Meanwhile, the New York Times’ Max Fisher concludes that the appeal of Western liberal democracy “as a regime type” will continue to decline. “American prosperity may no longer look so appealing either, because of growing problems, like inequality, as well as the rise of China as an alternative economic model.”

But will these revelations change anything? “Not among expatriates, journalists or the anti-China people,” said a Hong Kong academic who asked not be named to avoid being doxed by activists.

“For them, the tenets of Western liberal democracy remain a Sacred Cow that cannot be criticized. But most local Hong Kong people have cousins on the mainland and know there’s something seriously wrong with the mainstream narrative.”

LINK: US allies drive declines in liberal democracy: New York Times

Image at the top from Gopal Vijayaraghavan / flickr Under CC Licence


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