Democracies across the world are operating in a very different environment from the world in which they first emerged. Powerful non-state actors and hyper-connected networks are operating with deterministic effect beyond the reach of governments. The emergence of a large, unregulated digital commons is providing new tools for manipulation and propaganda by nefarious forces hostile to democratic values. The customized media marketplace, combined with the hostile dialogue on which social media thrives, is robbing societies of a shared narrative and is deepening political divisions.
As recent elections on both sides of the Atlantic have demonstrated, these forces are exerting pressure on institutions built for a simpler time, causing decay of the state and decline of expertise rendered impotent by systemic changes over which they have little control. The impotence of government to protect people from uncontrolled migration, terrorist attacks and financial meltdowns, combined with the perceived capture by elites, has led to anti-establishment movements and populist uprisings. The rise of authoritarianism is a symptom of the breakdown of the institutional trust on which democracy has long relied.
The apparatus of democracy needs to be updated for the 21st century in order to preserve democratic values and the rule of law. Technology and globalization have driven significant changes in society and the economy, which are not reflected in our institutions. Our challenges are global, but government is national or local. Power is increasingly in networks, but our institutions are still islands of hierarchy. As technology has created opportunities for connection and participation, social and cultural expectations have shifted in this direction, but our institutions have been slow to adopt new models for engagement. Institutions must operate with the transparency and responsiveness that citizens have come to expect while also proving competent to govern. In addition, the public square must be renewed to support the informed, civil deliberation a democracy requires.
The Future of Democracy program will bring together thoughtful leaders and leading thinkers to re-imagine democracy for the new era. Together we will develop new ideas for how to reinvent democratic institutions and rebuild the public square for the 21st century.