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Liberal Democracy | Munk Debates

EPISODE #7

Liberal Democracy

Be it resolved, liberal democracy will not survive the 21st century

Guests
Niall Ferguson
Michael Ignatieff

About this episode

Authoritarian regimes are experience a resurgence globally. Various strains of ethno-nationalism-populism are displacing liberalism in countries like Brazil, Hungary, Israel, Poland, Russia, and among significant segments of the voting publics of the United States and the UK. The rise of an anti-liberal order globally has many observers wondering if the core tenants and ideals of liberal democracy, which dominated western politics for the latter half of the 20th century, can survive the 21st century.

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Guests

Niall Ferguson

"You could be forgiven for thinking liberal democracy is just a scam to enrich the 1%"

Niall Ferguson

"You could be forgiven for thinking liberal democracy is just a scam to enrich the 1%"

Niall Ferguson, MA, D.Phil., is the Milbank Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a senior faculty fellow of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard. He is also a visiting professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing. He is the author of fifteen books, including The Pity of War, The House of Rothschild, Empire, Civilization and Kissinger, 1923-1968: The Idealist, which won the Council on Foreign Relations Arthur Ross Prize. He is an award-making filmmaker, too, having won an international Emmy for his PBS series The Ascent of Money. In addition to writing a weekly column for the Sunday Times (London) and the Boston Globe, he is the founder and managing director of Greenmantle LLC, an advisory firm. His most recent book, The Square and the Tower, was published in the U.S. in 2018, and was a New York Times bestseller.

Michael Ignatieff

"Liberal democracies, since 1945, have faced one successive challenge after another, and have overcome them"

Michael Ignatieff

"Liberal democracies, since 1945, have faced one successive challenge after another, and have overcome them"

Born in Canada, educated at the University of Toronto and Harvard, Michael Ignatieff is a university professor, writer and former politician.

His major publications are The Needs of Strangers (1984), Scar Tissue (1992), Isaiah Berlin (1998), The Rights Revolution (2000), Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry (2001), The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror (2004), Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics (2013), and The Ordinary Virtues: Moral Order in a Divided World (2017).

Between 2006 and 2011, he served as an MP in the Parliament of Canada and then as Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and Leader of the Official Opposition. He is a member of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and holds thirteen honorary degrees.

Between 2012 and 2015 he served as Centennial Chair at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York.

Between 2014 and 2016 he was Edward R. Murrow Professor of the Practice of the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

He is currently the Rector and President of Central European University in Budapest.

Show Notes

In his opening remarks, Niall Ferguson refers to Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world, which provides an annual global report on political rights and civil liberties, composed of numerical ratings. Freedom House recorded the 13th consecutive year of decline in global freedom, from 2005 to 2018. The share of Not Free countries rose to 26% while the share of Free countries declined to 44%. Between 1988 and 2005, corresponding with the fall of the Soviet Union, the percentage of countries ranked Not Free dropped by almost 14 points (from 37% to 23%), while the share of Free countries grew (from 36% to 46%). Syria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Libya, and Somalia are among the 13 countries with the worst scores for political freedom and civil liberties. Meanwhile, Angola, Armenia, Ecuador, Ethiopia, and Malaysia showed signs democratic progress in 2018.
 
 
Michael Ignatieff mentions the rise of authoritarian regimes under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, Victor Orban, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This Time Magazine article explores the rise of these ‘strongmen’ around the world, including in the US, Philippines, Brazil, Egypt, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.
 
 
Niall Ferguson talks about the populist rise of Boris Johnson. This Economist piece explains how the Conservative Party transformed from a party with rebel Eurosceptics on the fringes to one that embraced a hard Brexit with Remainer MPs routinely being sidelined.
 

Niall talks about the connection between increased migration and rise of populism. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision in 2015 to open the doors to 1 million refugees from Syria and other zones of distress sparked the rise of the anti-immigrant AfD. Far right parties in Sweden, France, Spain, and Austria have also seen gains due to anti-migrants sentiments in those countries.
 
 
Niall talks about Heteredox Academy, which was established by NYU Professor Jonathan Haidt to combat the narrowing of political viewpoints on college campuses.
In a recent survey,  53% of students reported that they do not think their college or university frequently encourages students to consider a wide variety of viewpoints and perspectives. 32% of conservatives (vs. 8% of liberals) were very reluctant to discuss politics in the classroom.
Another report from FIRE  showed 58% of students think it is important not to be exposed to "intolerant or offensive ideas." Disinviting speakers is supported by 78% of "very liberal" students and by 38% of "very conservative" students.
 

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