On 08 July 2020, The Takshashila Institution and the Niskanen Center hosted an online conversation on “Liberal Democracy”. This was the first event in a three-part series titled Beyond the Pandemic: A Battle for Ideas, it focused on the importance of liberal democracy in the current world order. The speakers were Nitin Pai, Cofounder and Director of the Takshashila Institution, and Will Wilkinson, Vice President of the Niskanen Center. The conversation was hosted by Manoj Kewalramani, Fellow at the Takshashila Institution.
Will Wilkinson began by arguing that the rise of populist nationalism is a consequence of urbanisation and in the US, the population density of an area determines which party is in power. In discussing the American democratic system, he states: “Our system isn’t really responsive to the demands of voters. Due to the way certain constituencies dominate the democratic process despite being a very small minority of the population, the system keeps not delivering the results the population wants. I don’t think that means that democracy doesn’t work, it means that we are not democratic enough.”
He emphasised the importance of protecting data privacy and defining people’s rights with regard to technology and personal data. He also emphasised that the concept of liberal democracy is both about the rights of the individual as well as the collective. Will argued that while global financial systems have led to a more integrated world, they have also created networks for illiberal regimes to influence liberal ones. With regard to US policy of spreading liberalism through foreign aid, he warned that while one can argue in favour of liberal democracy, it cannot be enforced onto communities; it will only take hold if it comes up organically from the community itself.
While Will linked the backlash against liberal democracy to geographic factors, Nitin Pai began by arguing a second dimension of the phenomenon, where he positioned the attack on liberal democracy as an unintended consequence of the proliferation of the internet and the transition into the Information Age. He clarified that this is a phase of turbulence that can be overcome but in order to do this, the case for liberal democracy must be made for every generation as:“the price of liberty is not just eternal vigilance but also eternal education”. Nitin underlined the strength of democracies to be the ability to admit to our faults and the failings of the system, and when this transparency starts to reduce, there is cause for worry.
He stated: “India’s prosperity lies in an open, global system. It is in India’s interest to go out and fight for this world at a time when the rest of the world seems to have lost faith.” He believed that foreign ideas can be imported in any part of the world and the concept of liberal democracy must be be advocated as it brings freedom and prosperity. He ended by affirming that values of liberal democracy have, in the last 70 years of Indian history, begun to overturn centuries of inequality and spread the arc of empowerment further every day.
(For more information about this series and the participating organisations, please visit the series’ page in the Media section)