The warning signs are flashing red: Democracy is under threat. Across Europe and North America, candidates are more authoritarian, party systems are more volatile, and citizens are more hostile to the norms and institutions of liberal democracy.
These trends have prompted a major debate between those who view political discontent as economic, cultural or generational in origin. But all of these explanations share one basic assumption: The threat is coming from the political extremes.
On the right, ethno-nationalists and libertarians are accused of supporting fascist politics; on the left, campus radicals and the so-called antifa movement are accused of betraying liberal principles. Across the board, the assumption is that radical views go hand in hand with support for authoritarianism, while moderation suggests a more committed approach to the democratic process.
Across Europe and North America, support for democracy is in decline. To explain this trend, conventional wisdom points to the political extremes. Both the far left and the far right are, according to this view, willing to ride roughshod over democratic institutions to achieve radical change. Moderates, by contrast, are assumed to defend liberal democracy, its principles and institutions.
The numbers indicate that this isn’t the case. As Western democracies descend into dysfunction, no group is immune to the allure of authoritarianism — least of all centrists, who seem to prefer strong and efficient government over messy democratic politics.
Strongmen in the developing world have historically found support in the center: From Brazil and Argentina to Singapore and Indonesia, middle-class moderates have encouraged authoritarian transitions to bring stability and deliver growth. Could the same thing happen in mature democracies like Britain, France and the United States?
[There were some statistical information supporting the subject matter of the article. However, they have not been included in this piece]
[Adapted from New York Times]
David Adler (@davidrkadler) is a political researcher.