This Thursday, President Biden will host (virtually) the first of two Summits for Democracy, which will convene officials from governments around the world with leaders from civil society and the private sector to set forth an agenda for democratic renewal built around defending against authoritarianism, fighting corruption, and promoting human rights.
The summit arrives at a perilous moment for democracy, both around the world and here in the United States. Globally, democracy is in retreat as populist authoritarians from Europe to Asia to South America claim to be showing the world a path toward prosperity that does not depend on political freedom. This is a lie. Genuine and meaningful economic freedom may not be impossible without political freedom; but it is certainly an inferior and incomplete form of economic freedom that allows a person to start a business or build a secure life without guaranteeing that that business or security can’t be taken away because of the person’s religion, political views, sexual orientation, what have you. Without real political freedom, economic freedom is fleeting, dispensed and withdrawn on a leader’s whim. I shouldn’t think examples would be necessary here. Within the United States, we see threats to democracy assuming many alarming forms. Polarization keeps getting worse. And in addition, as President Biden often notes, our system needs to demonstrate that democratic government can deliver for the people, which is proving to be something of a challenge.
These are issues this journal addresses with some frequency. We are hardly alone. This fall, the Aspen Strategy Group, a resolutely nonpartisan group that brings together decision makers in public and private forums to address key foreign policy challenges facing the United States, convened a summit of its own called “The Future of Democracy.” It featured presentations and roundtable discussions showcasing a stellar range of thinkers from across the political spectrum (though all of them deeply committed to furthering democracy at home and abroad) who addressed many different aspects of the crisis we face. We at Democracy journal decided that this pivotal week would be the perfect time to publish of some of the presentations from the conference. This is a joint endeavor of Democracy journal, the Aspen Strategy Group, and the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. We want to thank Leah Bitounis, Niamh King, and Emily Lawrence of Aspen, and of course the contributors themselves. It is a timely and urgent collection of essays. We will follow this online symposium with a special print edition that we’ll publish next February.
— Michael Tomasky, Editor