Our guest today, Ted Piccone of the Brookings Institution has spent much of the past few years traveling the world looking for democracy and then coming home and thinking about it.
The fruit of that labor is a just-published book Five Rising Democracies and the Fate of the International Liberal Order.
Before engaging with the book, it’s 5 test-case countries, and Ted Piccone’s thoughts about them, I thought I ought to have my own think about democracy.
I started my think by seeking out the thoughts of others on democracy and was delighted to discover that the quote I liked best came from one of the Americans I like best: Thomas Jefferson. “It is an axiom in my mind, that our liberty can never be safe but in the hands of the people themselves.”
Or as one of my un-favorite contemporary political thinkers, James Carville, might have put it – “Democracy? It’s the people, stupid.”
But however much democracy may depend on the people’s will, power and participation, a sustainable democracy demands more.
For me, the first requirement for real democracy is a compact, in both meanings of the word. A compact is an agreement, a decision by a people that they will work together in a common interest. But a compact is also a document, a contract that details the governance the people have agreed to.
The Constitution is our governmental compact, and like most agreements, it is something of a balancing act — between the powers through which a democratic government should rule, and the restraints of power meant to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens.
Thus, rule of law should be stable but flexible; strong in securing public safety, humble in protecting private choice. The selection process for political power should be open to all qualified applicants, while the procedures for succession of governments should be close to unchangeable. The day to day operations of good democracy should always bend towards fairness, a fair shake on justice from the courts, a fair shake on rewards from the economy.
The essence of this was summed up by another of our greatest Presidents: “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy,” said Abraham Lincoln.