Why Democracy Is Its Own Worst Enemy?

Prof. Cristiano Cabrita

The challenges that lay ahead for democracy are so serious that few political scientists have the courage to risk their reputation and pin down with relative accuracy what will happen on a 5/10/15 year basis. With this in mind, as an initial disclaimer, perhaps it is imperative to say at the outset that when the term “democracy” and “enemy” is used in the same sentence there’s a natural and immediate tendency—for those who are lucky enough to live in electoral democracies—to look over the fence and not to our own backyard.
That is to say, democracy’s enemies, our enemies, are some sort of mythological creatures that live far away from our perfect democratic bubble. This reasoning can be in part seen in the on-going debate about democracy’s struggle against its external enemies. During the cold war period democracy was at “war” with communism and, before that, with national-socialism and fascism. Currently, democracy faces new enemies: global authoritarianism, international terrorism, religious extremism, and Islamic fundamentalism.
Sir Winston Churchill’s famous quote is more than meaningful to describe the argument presented here: “When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you”. From this point of view—and that’s precisely part of the problem—democracy is to some extent its own worst enemy. Why? Because most of the issues that we’re debating today are a result of a certain apathy and disentanglement of liberal democracies around the world in the last decade.
One might say that this problem has two dimensions:
Firstly, that lethargy fostered a deterioration of democracy’s quality at a state level. This “enemy” is rooted deeply inside the democratic system and is responsible for corruption and the undermining of the rule of law.In fact, we have witnessed a decay of democracy’s fundamental principles in western democracies.
Secondly, consequently, as a direct result of what has happened at a state level, mainly in the US and Europe, it also cultivated an evident lack of legitimacy abroad. As a result of this backdrop, democratic principles became more unappealing. The image of democracy is suffering in the world.