Democracy is not guaranteed — it is a rare and fragile thing
We cannot take democracy for granted; those of us living in democracies are enjoying a rare moment of freedom in human history.
We take democracy for granted. Very few of us living in democracies are old enough to have fought for it. We are the inheritors of our grandparents’ victories and we often don’t realise how hard they worked to build the democracies we enjoy. We were born into them, and as with any inheritance that we didn’t work for, we risk taking it for granted and frittering it away.
I’ve written before that the simplest measure of success for a form of government is life expectancy. At the very basic level, we ask of those who rule us that their rule affords us health and longevity. This has, in many ways, been the basic measure of social systems since early humans first formed societies; those that worked out how to live longer thrived, those that didn’t declined and vanished.
Democracies are good for health and longevity. By contrast, dictatorships and autocracies tend to have lower life expectancies, worse health, and less prosperity. In Russia, life expectancy is 71, in Germany it is 81.
There is a simple reason for this. In a democracy, where people can vote out their leaders, a form of political natural selection takes place. Those leaders who fail are removed from the political system, and those who succeed are given greater power. In fully enfranchised societies, politicians have to address the needs of those most vulnerable in order to get elected, and this leads to better public health outcomes.
However badly democracies fail, and however rotten their politicians get, the political natural selection of a free vote means they eventually right themselves, replacing the bad politicians with better ones who turn things around again. America survived Trump. The UK will eventually eject Johnson and his corrupt and incompetent government.
Well-functioning democracies allow people the luxury of forgetting they are in a democracy. Things work, so they don’t require our attention. Democracy works so well, overall, that it is very easy to assume it has emerged as the only logical way forward for humankind. All the other systems have basically failed. They either end, like the great…