Now, and very unusually in history, the whole of humanity is facing a common threat. Experts differ in their forecasts: for some the impact will be short-term and limited, but others suggest that the world of tomorrow will be like the one before, but worse! The threat is not just to our health, or our wealth, nor even just through the climate emergency. The threat is to the way we lead and govern, to our engagement with key decisions that affect the quality of life itself. According to Freedom House, “the threat is to the rules-based order, and to democracy – the system of governance that many regard as key to prosperity. Only one piece of evidence will suffice. Political rights and civil liberties around the world have deteriorated to their lowest point in more than a decade…extending a period characterized by emboldened autocrats, beleaguered democracies, and the United States’ withdrawal from its leadership role in the global struggle for human freedom” (https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2018/democracy-crisis
). That was in 2018. Since then it has gotten worse.
It seems now that the world is living through culture wars against the institutions of liberal democracy -parliaments, the courts, the media, local governments, public and civil servants and the checks and balances of accountability. In the pursuit of longevity and for the consolidation of power and influence, governments with authoritarian tendencies are attacking the rival centres of power.
And there are many fights in progress -across the globe in Asia, Latin America, the nations of the former Soviet Union, within Europe and the European Union and in the USA. The fights seem to start when things go wrong, and governments fail to step up to adversity, but more readily rely on blame (on others), fear and prejudice. The proverbial ‘buck’ fails to stop where we used to accept it should.
Adversity, be it the product of a financial systems crash, a pandemic or an accelerating climate emergency, is amplifying the inadequacy of our systems, exacerbating inequalities and destabilising communities in ways that open the opportunities for the centralisation of power that feels less and less the need to be accountable. One consequence might be that the liberal democracy that we know, with the checks and balances and abilities, however imperfect, to listen and hear ordinary voices of the many stakeholders, may be on the wane, about to be replaced by top-down revolution, or by a complete retreat by government.
The Panel will focus on the many and various examples of battles and assess and draw conclusions about the overall ‘culture war’.