Geopolitics

How 21st Century Democracies Destroy Themselves From Within

From Venezuela to Hungary, populist leaders are carving away at fundamental checks and balances in slow and often subtle ways.

Voting centers in the San Diego municipality, in Venezuela, during the elections of councilmen for the municipal councils of each state
Voting centers in the San Diego municipality, in Venezuela, during the elections of councilmen for the municipal councils of each state
Rodrigo Uprimny*

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — The Intimate Enemies of Democracy is the name of a beautiful, profound book by the late Tzvetan Todorov, who died in 2017 and was one of the sharpest of modern thinkers. The work examines the dangers that threaten contemporary democracies, and that are worth considering here in Colombia, especially with regional elections looming.

Todorov's proposition is similar to the thesis presented in another, best-selling book, How Democracies Die, by Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. The idea in both books is that today's democracies don't end the way they did in the 20th century, through sudden, external interventions such as an invasion or a coup, like the the one in Chile in 1973. Their demise, rather, is slow — to the point where it's sometimes difficult to say when the collapse really took place. Today's democracies are also undone by internal enemies, rather than outside attackers.

Todorov sees three categories of internal enemies, starting with populism, which invokes majority votes to destroy horizontal controls like judicial independence. These checks constitute crucial elements of the rule of law and are a necessary condition for the existence of any democracy worthy of the name.

Today's democracies are also undone by internal enemies, rather than outside attackers.

Secondly, there is political messianism, which breaks social support networks that are essential to the cohesion of a political community. The phenomenon also fuels a sharp rise in economic inequalities that undermine democracies. Ultimately, as the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau said more than two centuries ago, a proper, functioning democracy requires that no citizen "be so wealthy as to be able to buy another, and none be so poor as to be compelled to sell himself."

Orban and his wife Aniko Levai voting at 2014 parliamentary election — Photo: Xinhua/ZUMA

The threat from internal enemies has no clear political color, as attacks sometimes come from the Left, but also from the Right.

An example is the democracy that the Left has worn away in Venezuela: the country's late, charismatic leader Hugo Chávez, who won several elections with resounding popular support, believed he had a popular mandate so robust and a revolutionary mission so messianic that he simply had to subject the judiciary and other organs of control to the Chavista vision. This did not happen overnight but in stages, making it difficult to know when exactly Venezuelan democracy died. But it did.

One great difficulty in fighting these internal enemies of democracy is in their use of democratic language and instruments to undermine the system. And that includes elections.



* Uprimny is a lecturer at Colombia's National University.

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New Delhi, India: Fumigation Against Dengue Fever In New Delhi

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 வணக்கம்*

Welcome to Thursday, where America's top general reacts to China's test of a hypersonic weapon system, Russia is forced to reimpose lockdown measures and Venice's historic gondola race is hit by a doping scandal. French daily Les Echos also offers a cautionary tale of fraud in the crypto economy.

[*Vaṇakkam, Tamil - India, Sri Lanka, Singapore]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Top U.S. general says Chinese weapon nearly a "Sputnik moment": China recently conducted a "very concerning" test of a hypersonic weapon system as part of its push to expand space and military technologies, Gen. Mark Milley, the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Bloomberg News. America's top military officer said that this was akin to the Soviet Union's stunning launch of the world's first satellite, Sputnik, 1957, which sparked the Cold War space race. Milley also called the test of the weapon "a very significant technological event" that is just one element of China's military capabilities.

Brexit: France seizes British trawler: A British trawler has been seized by France while fishing in French waters without a license, amid escalating conflict over post-Brexit fishing rights. France's Minister for Europe said it will adopt a zero-tolerance attitude towards Britain and block access to virtually all of its boats until it awards licenses to French fishermen.

COVID update: Russia confirmed a new record of coronavirus deaths, forcing officials to reimpose some lockdown measures, including a nationwide workplace shutdown in the first week of November. Germany also saw its numbers spike, with more than 28,000 new infections yesterday, adding to worries about restrictions this winter there and elsewhere in Europe. Singapore, meanwhile, reported the biggest surge in the city-state since the coronavirus pandemic began. Positive news on the vaccine front, as U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck granted royalty-free license for a COVID-19 antiviral pill to help protect people in the developing world.

Iran nuclear talks to resume: Iran's top nuclear negotiator said multilateral talks in Vienna with world powers about its nuclear development program will resume before the end of November. The announcement comes after the U.S. warned efforts to revive the deal were in "critical phase."

First U.S. passport with "X" gender marker: The U.S. State Department has issued its first American passport with an "X" gender marker. It is designed to give nonbinary, intersex and gender-nonconforming people a marker other than male or female on their travel document. Several other countries, including Canada, Argentina and Nepal, already offer the same option.

China limits construction of super skyscrapers: China has restricted smaller cities in the country from building extremely tall skyscrapers, as part of a larger bid to crack down on wasteful vanity projects by local governments. Earlier this year the country issued a ban on "ugly architecture."

Doping scandal hits Venice's gondola race: For the first time in the history of the Venice Historical Regatta, a participant has tested positive to marijuana in a doping test: Gondolier Renato Busetto, who finished the race in second place, will be suspended for 13 months.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"End of the ice age," titles German-language Luxembourgish daily Luxemburger Wort, writing about how the ice melting in the Arctic opens up new economic opportunities with a new passage for countries like Russia and China but with potentially devastating effects for the environment. The issue of the Arctic is one of the topics that will be discussed at the COP26 Climate Change Conference which kicks off in Glasgow on Sunday.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$87 billion

A new United Nations report found that extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones, floods and droughts have caused India an average annual loss of about $87 billion in 2020. India is among the countries which suffered the most from weather hazards this year along with China and Japan.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Air Next: How a crypto scam collapsed on a single spelling mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy from Laurence Boisseau in Paris-based daily Les Echos.

📲 The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system. Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation.

📝 On Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, the CEO admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

⚠️ What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond". Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


📣 VERBATIM

"A weapon was handed to Mr. Baldwin. The weapon is functional, and fired a live round."

— Following the Oct. 21 on-set shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, Sante Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza told a press conference that the "facts are clear" about the final moments before Hutchins was shot. The investigation continues to determine what led up to that moment, and any possible criminal responsibility related to how the "prop" gun that actor Alec Baldwin fired was loaded.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Share with us your favorite gondola memories or worst crypto scams — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com

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