Scholar/author grapples with democracy’s fight for survival in 'perilous' times

Scholar/author grapples with democracy’s fight for survival in 'perilous' times

Journalist/author and scholar Yascha Mounk, who has been sounding the alarm about democracy’s fight for survival in his articles for The Atlantic, was delighted when centrist French President Emmanuel Macron defeated far-right challenger Marine Le Pen by 18% in France’s 2022 presidential election on Sunday, April 24 — an outcome he views as a rejection of authoritarianism by French voters. But Mounk isn’t encouraging defenders of democracy to be complacent by any means. The 39-year-old Mounk, who is originally from Munich but now teaches at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, believes that democracy is under attack all over the world — a subject he addresses in his new book, “The Great Experiment: Why Diverse Democracies Fall Apart and How They Can Endure” and addressed during an interview with Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin.

The Never Trump conservative devotes her April 25 column to that interview, presenting it as a Q&A. When Rubin asked Mounk why “pluralistic democracies” are “so hard to maintain,” he responded, “It’s tempting to think that ‘diversity is our strength,’ but anyone who looks at history or psychology quickly learns that there are many reasons why it’s actually very difficult for different ethnic and religious groups to live together peacefully and productively…. In a monarchy, neither of us has power; we both have to trust the king…. In a democracy, by contrast, the power of different groups depends much more directly on their size.”

Mounk adds, “If you have more kids than me, I’m going to be worried that you’ll be able to out-vote me, to take power away from my group. That’s why democratic institutions actually help to fuel the kind of demographic panic that has become so prominent on the far right in recent years.”

When Mounk tweeted about Macron’s victory in France on April 24, he was looking at the big picture — arguing that Le Pen’s loss was also a loss for Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom she praised in the past. Mounk, who was watching that election closely, has had the same warning about France that he has had about the United States: Democracy is under attack by extremists. And Mounk has warned that the U.S. is experiencing a “perilous moment.”

But during his interview with Rubin, Mounk sounded cautiously optimistic.

Mounk told Rubin, “I like to think that I have come to embrace a realistic optimism. There are deep and serious injustices in the United States — and in just about every other diverse democracy today. We must struggle against them. But over the past decades, we have also seen an immense increase in social tolerance.”

The German immigrant continued, “We have seen a precipitous increase in the rate at which people from different groups form friendships, start businesses or have children together. We have seen immigrants and their descendants make rapid economic and educational progress. And we have even seen the gap between different ethnic groups on everything from wages to life expectancy narrow significantly. We have a long way to go, but we can build on the progress of the past decades.”

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