Conservative columnist David Brooks on democracy in peril:

. . . What happens when you don’t tend the seedbeds of democracy? Chaos? War? No, you return to normal. The 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries were normal. Big countries like China, Russia and Turkey are ruled by fierce leaders with massive power. That’s normal. Small aristocracies in many nations hog gigantic shares of their nations’ wealth. That’s normal. Many people come to despise cultural outsiders, like immigrants. Normal. Global affairs resembles the law of the jungle, with big countries threatening small ones. This is the way it’s been for most of human history.

In normal times, people crave order and leaders like Vladimir Putin arise to give it to them. Putin and Xi Jinping have arisen to be the 21st century’s paradigmatic men.

Putin has established political order in Russia by reviving the Russian strong state tradition and by concentrating power in the hands of one man. He has established economic order through a grand bargain with oligarch-led firms, with him as the ultimate C.E.O. As Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy write in their book, “Mr. Putin,” corruption is the glue that holds the system together. Everybody’s wealth is deliberately tainted, so Putin has the power to accuse anyone of corruption and remove anyone at any time.

He offers cultural order. He embraces the Russian Orthodox Church and rails against the postmodern godlessness of the West. He scorns homosexuality and transgenderism.

Putin has redefined global conservatism and made himself its global leader. Many conservatives around the world see Putin’s strong, manly authority, his defense of traditional values and his enthusiastic embrace of orthodox faith, and they see their aspirations in human form. Right-wing leaders from Donald Trump in the United States to Marine Le Pen in France to Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines speak of Putin admiringly.

The 21st century has become a dark century because the seedbeds of democracy have been neglected and normal historical authoritarianism is on the march. Putin and Xi seem confident that the winds of history are at their back. Writing in The Times a few weeks ago, Hill said that Putin believes the United States is in the same predicament Russia was in in the 1990s — “weakened at home and in retreat abroad.” . . .

Will we be able to hold off the wolves, asks Brooks? “Strengthen democracy and preserve the rules-based world order?”

Read the full piece for his answer.



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