Cancel culture and the Harper’s Letter: a moan from the Ivory Tower or call to the liberal battlements?

The Letter on Justice and Open Debate published on 7 July 2020 and signed by 150 noted authors, academics, and public intellectuals cuts straight to a key fault line in liberalism. A collection of privileged individuals are claiming an unfettered right to say or write whatever they wish on the grounds that this right is the “lifeblood of a liberal society”. If this highly contestable claim is correct, it can then be asked if a liberal society is justifiable.

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Confronting global warming and other looming crises: can democracies marshall the necessary expertise?

Confronting the dramatic trends taking place in the rates of global warming, destruction of the environment, extinction of biodiversity, and global social injustice urgently requires unprecedented societal and economic transformations. Can major democratic economies overcome the combination of disillusionment with government and distrust of experts, and position themselves to bring about the transformations these crises demand?

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Putin

Forward to the past? New-old theatres of Russia’s International Projection (ISPI)

Russian foreign policy is now more energetic than at anytime since the end of the Soviet Union. And the Russian president has again emphasised that he considers the parliamentary form of government unsuitable for Russia. …according to Putin, Russia must remain a strong presidential republic. Just a few days after delivering the [January 2020] Address, the President again emphasised that he considers the parliamentary form of government unsuitable for Russia Under President Putin Russian foreign

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Central Europe map

Voices of Central and Eastern Europe: Perceptions of democracy & governance in 10 EU countries (Globsec)

A survey of Central and Eastern European countries exposes the shallow roots of liberal democracy, with significant numbers indicating that they would trade off democratic freedoms for greater security, welfare, and preservation of traditional values. Authors: Dominika Hajdu and Katarina Klingová | Globsec | Published 23 June 2020 Only in 5 of 10 countries surveyed would more than 50% of the respondents choose liberal democracy over an autocratic leader. Globsec’s survey of 10 Central and

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Who’s first wins? International crisis response to COVID-19 (EUISS)

Did democracies really respond to the Covid-19 pandemic less swiftly than authoritarian systems – and if the determining factor is not the political system, what are the key elements in a crisis response? EUISS (European Union Institute for Security Studies) | Report published 20 May 2020 | Authors: Florence Gaub, Lotje Boswinkel In this Brief, we put this hypothesis to the test: did democracies really respond less swiftly than authoritarian systems – and if the determining

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Inequality and repression undermine democracy and market economy worldwide (BTI Transformational Index)

The number of people who are governed poorly and less democratically is increasing worldwide, and rule of law and political freedoms are being eroded in an increasing number of democracies. Restricted freedom of expression, a gagged press or disempowered constitutional courts – as a rule, these are characteristics of autocracies. But our latest Transformation Index shows that the rule of law and political freedoms are also being eroded in an increasing number of democracies. The

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Securitisation – turning problems into threats (Allan Behm, The Australia Institute)

One of the more disturbing tendencies of modern governments is to transform policy problems into threats, thereby elevating them into the national security domain as the political rhetoric extends further into hyperbole. Author: Allan Behm, Head of the International & Security Affairs Program at The Australia Institute | Published June 2020 | Download the full report (pdf opens, 322kb) Securitisation elevates the levels of state intervention in handling issues in a way that displays, emphasises

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Year of the rat. The strategic consequences of the coronavirus crisis (Bruno Tertrais)

How might the decline of globalisation affect the rise in authoritarianism and the risk of conflict? How might sovereignism and isolationism retard responses to the ecological and climate crises of the Anthropocene? By Bruno Tertrais | Published 6 April 2020 | Foundation for Strategic Research (Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique | France This pandemic is the perfect stress test for the contemporary global society – and, because of its brutal and massive nature, a real

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Serbian democracy: a case of state capture? (BCSP)

The Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP) has produced a disturbing report on what it describes as the “deliberate political undertaking in which political actors use the consequences (both real and imagined) of the previous government as justification for the complete capture of the state’s institutions” in Serbia. At a time when the EU is struggling to live up to its core political values, the Serbian government’s commitment to the rule of law and separation

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The Deep State conspiracy theory: Is Trump laying the groundwork for The Great Presidential Robbery?

Should US presidential hopeful Joe Biden prevail in November, the grounds will have been laid for Donald Trump to cry foul – with the potential for a crisis of political legitimacy. Australian policymakers, struggling with balancing the economic relationship with China and the security relationship with the US, should be following domestic trends in America with nervous apprehension.

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Historical amnesia: Great power behaviour and criticism of China

Positioning the adversarial relationship with China as one of morally superior western democratic nations in competition with a somehow illegitimate and malevolent China is an exercise in historical amnesia. The democratic United State’s 1890 – 1920 trajectory from western hemisphere state to global power has some economic, military and foreign policy parallels with authoritarian China’s growth in the twenty-first century.

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Global dissatisfaction with democracy at record high (Cambridge)

According to a report released in January 2020 by the Bennett Institute (Cambridge), many large democracies are now at their highest-ever recorded level for democratic dissatisfaction, including the UK, US, Brazil, Mexico and Australia. Many large democracies are now at their highest-ever recorded level for democratic dissatisfaction, including the UK, US, Brazil, Mexico and Australia A report released in January 2020 by the new Centre for the Future of Democracy at the Bennett Institute, University

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Geostrategic shifts in a time of contagion

The COVID-19 crisis will affect the global geostrategic situation in a number of ways: some obvious and some still obscure.

Post COVID-19 economic conditions within nation states and across the globalised world will have shifted; governments will be juggling with the options of austerity policies, tax increases and welfare demands. Liberal and democratic values are likely to have suffered, along with confidence in democratic political leadership. And internationally, competition between political and economic systems might just be heating up.

The future geostrategic situation could turn on whether China or the US bounces back best from the current predicament. The coronavirus could prove to be a test of the resilience and viability of the political and economic systems of the two key states, and reposition their strategic competition.

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What COVID-19 tells us about preparing for global warming

The current crisis tells us some important things. The flaws in the neo-liberal model have been exposed. Democratic politics have been stressed to breaking point. The shocks to the economic, social and fiscal systems required to avoid dangerous climate change are shown to be unfeasible.

Denial, delay, and deflection over the climate science by democratic governments immersed in neo-liberal fantasies has set the world an unachievable target if dangerous global warming is to be avoided.

The extraordinary steps imposed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic are what is needed on a sustained basis if a limit of 1.5°C of global warming is to be achieved. And yet this period of lock-down, self-isolation, social-distancing, and commercial and industrial dormancy has already shown that the measures responsible are imposing on whole societies costs which cannot be borne for long.

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David Runciman: Coronavirus has not suspended politics – it has revealed the nature of power

In an article in The Guardian, David Runciman shows how the pandemic has removed “one layer of political life to reveal something more raw underneath”. He writes, “As Hobbes knew, to exercise political rule is to have the power of life and death over citizens. The only reason we would possibly give anyone that power is because we believe it is the price we pay for our collective safety. But it also means that we

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Liberal democracy: the prognosis post-COVID-19

Liberal democracy still has a way to go before getting out of the ICU. Diagnosed with an underlying co-morbidity prior to the pandemic, it will be fortunate to survive without an ongoing need for respiratory support.

Governments have assumed extraordinary powers without a great deal of parliamentary or public debate, or clarity about why those powers were essential, or under what circumstances they will be extinguished.

Many see in the measures the potential for civil liberties and human rights to be eroded and for illiberal and autocratic tendencies to supplant liberal democratic values. The measures’ insidious potential is magnified by the willingness of governments to use questionable behavioural science to shape public attitudes and responses.

The prognosis for liberal democracy post-COVID-19 is not auspicious.

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The Trumping of international law and democratic institutions

In the past, presidents used the potency of the American liberal democratic ideal to rally like-minded nations and to rein in and chasten the world’s miscreants. The liberty and justice rhetoric appealed to and generated hope among peoples suffering under autocracy and oppression. The ideal inspired and could be leveraged for influence. While US society was never perfect, American leaders always claimed to be progressively moving towards its ideal and that was the basis of US claims for world leadership.

But under President Trump, the important institutions of constitutional democracy and international law have recently suffered serious damage. The long-term prospects for peace and stability have been undercut as a result.

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Thuringia and European democracy after Merkel

In German politics, a strong party taboo was broken when Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party (CDU) joined with the centrist Free Democrat Party (FDP) leader in Thuringia, Thomas Kemmerich, to form a government with the support of the right wing Alternative for Germany (AfD).

The breaking of the taboo might reflect the passing of the generation of Angela Merkel, shaped by the complex social, political and economic legacy of the Nazi past, a divided Germany, post-Soviet national reunification and the emergence of the European Union.

In this article MIke looks at the historical context that gave rise to the “cordon sanitaire” around the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), and the potential signficance of its demise (and Merkel’s retirement) for the European project and geopolitics more broadly. .

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