The Will of the People in Global Decline

by Thomas Klikauer and Danny Antonelli


While many of us believe that we live in a democracy – representing the United Nation’s “will of the people”, the “general will”, and Rousseau’s volonté général – most democratic systems are not entirely free from propaganda. In 1922, Bertrand Russell wrote about Free Thought and Official Propaganda.

In his piece he discussed freedom of thought and freedom of the individual, looked at what had been gained or lost in the past, and gave us a warning about the new dangers that had come to threaten both freedom of thought and freedom of the individual. He wrote:

New dangers, somewhat different in form from those of past ages, threaten both kinds of freedom, and unless a vigorous and vigilant public opinion can be aroused in defense of them, there will be much less of both a hundred years hence than there is now.

Now here we are 102 years later and we actually have much less of both freedom of thought and freedom of the individual because both are being challenged everywhere by techno-fascism and the oligarchs who manipulate public opinion through social media and all the other forms of media that they control. Official propaganda rules the world of print and the internet.

Every year, the neoliberal, conservative, free-market-loving, glossy, and staunchly pro-business journal The Economist publishes a global outlook on democracy. The Economist says it likes democracy everywhere – with the notable exception of in the economy run by big business.

As if it were the plague, The Economist avoids ever talking about economic democracy, industrial democracy, and even the rather trivial workplace democracy. Kowtowing to the feudal opinions of the oligarch owners, the self-described democratic Economist prefers to fight the only democratic institution in the workplace: the much despised trade unions.

But let us look beyond all that for the moment and study the EIU (Economist Intelligence unit) annual report which analyzes the governments of 165 countries and gives them a score from 0 to 10 in order to measure whether they are heading toward more democracy or drifting away from it. This point system is based on five elements:

  1. electoral process and pluralism;
  2. functioning of government;
  3. political participation;
  4. political culture; and,
  5. civil liberties.

Based on this point system, countries are placed into one of four categories of democracy: Established or full democracy (above 8), flawed democracy (6-8), hybrid systems (4-6), and authoritarian-dictatorial regimes (below 4). The highest score you can get is 10. Nobody gets 10, but Norway is the closest, with 9.9.

Established:       An established or full democracy exists where elections, political freedoms, and civil liberties are respected. These are strengthened by a political-democratic culture conducive to a thriving democracy. Democratic institutions and the government work. The media is independent from the state. But perhaps not from business, as many media outlets are businesses. If the judiciary is independent and judicial decisions are enforced, there are checks and balances which tend to prevent anti-democratic behavior.

Flawed:               These are places with, seemingly, free and fair elections but there are problems. There are transgressions on media freedom and on civil liberties. Democracy is weaker and there are difficulties with governance. This is made worse by an insufficiently of widespread political culture and a lack of political participation.

Hybrid:                In hybrid democracies, democratic elections are defined by serious anomalies. Elections aren’t free and fair. The government pressures opposition parties and democratic candidates. There are severe faults in political culture, the functioning of the government, and in democratic participation. Worse, political and corporate corruption is often widespread, while the rule of law is frail. Democratic society is very weak, while harassment of journalists is commonplace. The country’s judiciary is no longer independent.

Dictatorial:        Democracy and pluralism are absent or profoundly limited. These are complete dictatorships. In some cases, a few “formal” institutions of democracy do exist to smokescreen authoritarianism. In a few cases, elections may occur but these are not free and fair. There is an abuse of civil liberties. The media is controlled and connected to the ruling regime. There is no independent judiciary.

Only 74 out of the 167 countries examined are full democracies. 44.3%. In other words, for every country that boasts a full democracy, there are roughly 2.3 countries  that don’t have much democracy at all. In fact, deterioration has set in everywhere, whether they are real democracies or those countries belonging to the category of flawed democracy. In short, democracy is not growing in the world, it is shrinking.

About half of the people in the world live in a democracy. However, only 8% live in a full democracy. Even this figure has declined since 2015, and especially in the USA after 2016 when Trump came to power. Things are looking grim.

Thanks to the neo-fascist Republican party gaining control of too many branches of government, the self-appointed beacon of democracy – the USA – was downgraded from full democracy to a flawed democracy in 2016.

That relegated the USA to the second category, where it joined the roughly 38% of the world’s population. The next step down, the hybrid democracy category makes up about 15% of the people on this earth. Even more ghastly, a whopping 40% of the world lives in an authoritarian regime – under an outright dictatorship.

The USA and its deterioration of democracy is part of a worldwide pattern. Democracy in many parts of the world failed to make any progress in 2023. In fact, the most severe deterioration took place in the backyard of the US, in its Monroe Doctrine protected countries of El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Further to the east, democracy in Pakistan also deteriorated – The Economist’s ranking of Pakistan declined by 0.88 to just 3.25, which is below the magic number 4 and thus makes Pakistan an authoritarian regime. Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia also saw a substantial weakening of democracy.

Ukraine, defending itself from vigorous aggression by a country governed by a one-party system and an ever-more powerful coterie of siloviki around the despotic ruler, has had to implement wartime rules of conduct like Martial Law which have also had a negative effect on its democracy.

The global indicators for electoral process and pluralism declined in 2023. That is problematic. The same applies to the proper functioning of democratic government institutions. Most concerning is a notable rise in three areas:

  1. state corruption and corporate corruption;
  2. insufficient transparency; and,
  3. a serious lack of accountability.

These three elements have spread like metastasized cancer and destabilized governments and political parties everywhere. The same oligarchs who thrive from these elements also, unsurprisingly, work tirelessly to make sure political participation has also declined. In the area of political culture, the world saw a worsening in attachment to democracy and democratic institutions.

In short, fewer people believe in and support democracy, which is the direct result of the endless flow of disinformation that has flooded every social media network controlled by our techno-feudal overlords. Bertrand Russell has seen us in our future, struggling to find the truth that has been buried under masses of lies:

It is clear also that thought is not free if all the arguments on one side of a controversy are perpetually presented as attractively as possible, while the arguments on the other side can only be discovered by diligent search.

According to The Economist, one of the most serious threats to democracy occurring in developed democracies as well as in authoritarian systems is the assault on civil liberties and media freedom by state and non-state actors.

Despite all these negative developments, the top-10 most democratic countries in the world are: Norway, New Zealand, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Taiwan. Germany (12), Australia (14), and the UK (19) are in the top 20, along with Greece, which was included in a tie with Mauritius even though its indicators are not as strong. 

Spain and France are at 23 & 24, not quite on the flawed democracy list, which begins with Chile, the Czech Republic and Estonia. Malta is ahead of the USA (29) and Israel (30), which is probably going to lose a few points in 2024.

Portugal is flawed but still much better than the hybrids: Bangladesh, Malawi, Peru, Zambia, Liberia, Fiji, etc. Russia is ranked at 144 but still isn’t regarded as a true dictatorship, like the Kyrgyz Republic, Algeria, Qatar, Lebanon, etc.

US-liberated and no-WMD Iraq is cozying up to the world’s three vilest dictatorships: North Korea, Myanmar and, finally, another country the West wanted to bring democracy to: Afghanistan.

While authoritarian Afghanistan is at the bottom of the list when it comes to democracy, there are also countries where democracy has steeply declined. These are: Mali, Madagascar, Burkina Faso, Palestine, and the greatly supported and even glorified Ukraine.

The Economist put it rather nicely when saying, “Ukraine’s democracy is in limbo.” The flattery continues with, the government was struggling to improve the state of democracy.” There are three issues that have damaged democracy in the Ukraine:

  1. Since the start of the war, power has become more concentrated in the hands of the president, Volodmir Zelenskiy, at the expense of the executive branch and the democratic parliament;
  2. Corruption remains a serious issue; and,
  3. Martial law has been exercised to the detriment of the media and democratic freedom.

On the side of the aggressor, things aren’t any better as “Russia continued its steady slide towards outright dictatorship.” The recent murder of Navalny does not help – to the contrary, it highlights the brutality that underlies the clique of the ruling elite. The same goes for the show-trial-style sentencing of Oleg Orlov.

At the same time, and most devastatingly, elections are going to take place in the USA, Brazil, India and Indonesia, all countries with a flawed democracy.

Dangerous and much worse, “the US … that was once a beacon of democracy is likely to slide deeper into division and disenchantment.” The potential re-election of Donald Trump will turbo-charge America’s fast and furious drive toward authoritarian fascism.

Things are not any better in India, the self-touted world’s largest democracy. In India, the ruling BJP remains the world’s biggest religiously tainted right-wing political party with more than 180 million members. The BJP is led by Narendra Modi, who relentlessly pushes Hindu nationalism. Curtailing the media and the banning of a recent BBC documentary did not help democracy either.

What surely does not help democracy is war. Strangely, though our video world and TV images don’t show it, the numbers support Steven Pinker’s key argument: there has been a steady decline in global violence. Deaths from war started to drop during  the 1950s and at the end of the Korean War.

There was, in fact, a pronounced decline until Russia attacked Ukraine. 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers have died since 24 February 2022. Probably more than 100,000 Russian soldiers have died as well since then.

The true number is well-hidden and might not ever be known until Putin and his siloviki friends are all dust. During the post-WWII period, the world saw

Lots of dead people in all those wars, but apparently not as many as during the holocaust years of WWII.

Nevertheless, The Economist insists that democracies are more peaceful than non-democracies. This seems to be a compelling argument. Even though the list of countries the flawed democracy USA has bombed since WWII is rather long. Non-democratic China cannot compete with that.

Of course the “democracy equals peace” argument works – at least in Europe. For example, the EU remains a peace project imbued with democracy – a little frail in Hungary and some of the former Soviet satellites.

The existence of the EU has had a positive impact on the “long peace” in Europe, which had been unattainable for decades, even centuries, and might soon be over if Putin has his way.

Although democracies may not have gone to war against each other since WWII, they have gone to war or intervened against non-democracies, national liberation movements, and even countries that had a democracy of sorts. This was the case in the US led putsch against the progressive democracy in Chile.

A democratically elected president – Salvador Allende – was eliminated in order to install a non-democratic dictator: Augusto Pinochet, who created death camps and implemented mass torture.

As it is, the developed countries in western Europe remain among the world’s true democracies with 15 of 24 falling into this category. Unsurprisingly, Canada, at number 13, continues to be the only full democracy in North America because the US (29) is now a flawed democracy.

The main problem in the deterioration of democracy in the USA is that with the decline in education and critical thinking, dogma has replaced both:

In religion and politics though there is as yet nothing approaching scientific knowledge, everybody considers it de rigueur to have a dogmatic opinion, to be backed up by inflicting starvation, prison, and war, and to be carefully guarded from argumentative competition with any different opinion.

In Latin American, only Costa Rica and Uruguay are full democracies. In what is somehow still regarded as Africa instead of included in the sub-continental region of India, the only truly democratic country is the tiny island of Mauritius – population 1.3 million, about the same as the population of Dublin.

The Czech Republic, Estonia, and Slovenia got close to being regarded as belonging to the full democracy club in 2023.

On the downside, hybrid democracies and dictatorships make up 93 of the 167 countries. That is 55.7% of the countries in the world. Meanwhile, democracies made virtually no gain on the five key indicators of electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture, and civil liberties.

Notwithstanding the baseless attempts by Trump and the Republicans to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, as many had hoped, the US electoral institutions showed some resilience.

As federal charges and state charges against Trump’s attack on democracy have shown, his criminal behavior included a putsch-style attempt to end democracy.

Within 36 hours, five people died: one was shot by Capitol Police, another died of a drug overdose, and three died of natural causes, including a police officer.

Many people were injured, including 174 police officers. Four officers who responded to the attack died by suicide within seven months. As of July 7, 2022, damages caused by attackers exceed $2.7 million.”

The J6 insurrection and the continuing violence by the fascist right is the result of an intense political and cultural polarisation in the US. In the USA, social consensus was on the brink of disintegration in recent years as the neoconservative culture wars intensified.

South of the border, in Latin America and the Caribbean, countries have endured eight consecutive years of the decline of democracy. The largest decline occurred in El Salvador, a country increasingly moving toward authoritarian rule.

It was made worse by an unconstitutional re-election bid by the businessman president Nayib Bukele. To make matters worse, Central America (and this excludes Mexico), experienced the sharpest decline in democracy.

In 29 South American countries people say crime is their primary concern. Chileans are the most likely to say this (64%). El Loco or the Madman, Javier Milei, said “Argentina has become a bloodbath,”  vowing to fight the drug traffickers who had “hijacked” the streets of its biggest cities.

That helped him win the election to become the new president of a country with 200% inflation and a history of authoritarian military rule.

Out of 28 countries in Australasia, 15 recorded a decline in democracy while just eight saw improvements. In India, for example, the role of functioning government institutions as well as its political culture improved slightly.

But civil liberties declined. The decline in civil liberties is because the state not only fails to protect but also targets minorities while engineering inter-ethnic violence.

Violence is also a feature of another region: the Middle East and North Africa. This region remains at the very end of The Economist’s democracy index, with Iraq and the head-chopping kingdom of Saudi Arabia being at the bottom of the list.

While there has been a decline in democracy in Israel because of Netanyahu, and in authoritarian Palestine because of Hamas, protracted and seemingly endless conflicts and instabilities stifle this region’s progress toward real democracy.

In the end, The Economist’s view of the world’s democracies remains a Eurocentric view. After all, it’s a conservative business magazine with its HQ in the heart of the London business community.

But even with this caveat, the data and insights presented are rather gripping. Sadly, the world has made virtually no progress in becoming more democratic. The opposite appears to be the case.

In the USA, for example, there is a pro-business “Pepsi-vs.-Coke” kind of choice between two old men: a slightly senile fan of Taylor Swift; and a reactionary and really stupid madman.

One of the world’s most astute analysts, Noam Chomsky, once noted that “the U.S. has a one-party political system – the business party – with two factions, Democrats and Republicans.” The oligarchs of the Republican faction have, however, now gone 100% black shirt and brown shirt fascist.

In the USA, in Europe, and elsewhere this one-party system (with two wings) is fueled by a very powerful institution: the corporate media. As the corporate media sideline, badmouth, and attack progressive political parties, we have seen an accompanying rise of neo-fascism that threatens democracy.

The business media and their social media outlets demand that people who believe that democracy is a necessity stand up to defend democracy.

At the same time this same group of strategists urge the democratic core of the consumer society not to wander off into progressive areas that could bring down their House of Cards. That is how the ingenious “media+capitalism” system stabilizes itself.

Finally, whether with or without democracy, the beloved global capitalism of The Economist will continue. At times, it seems corporate capitalism prefers no democracy – at least not for the majority of the world’s population. And of course never inside its key and most authoritarian top-down structured institution: the corporation.

The Economist is a propaganda organ of the capitalist elite. One should not forget that. It does some good analysis of facts, but it hides other, uncomfortable facts from view. Once again, Bertrand Russell saw our future emerge from a present that in 1922 was not all that different from 2024:

There are two quite different evils about propaganda as now practiced. On the one hand, its appeal is generally to irrational causes of belief rather than to serious argument; on the other hand, it gives an unfair advantage to those who can obtain most publicity, whether through wealth or through power The objection to propaganda is not only its appeal to unreason, but still more the unfair advantage which it gives to the rich and powerful.

The global democracy index from The Economist is a factual compilation of statistics that show us how the world is currently sliding toward less democracy. What it doesn’t show are the factual statistics that let us see how major corporations are contributing to the exploitation and poverty that drives countries toward less democracy and eventually to authoritarianism.

Nor does it open our eyes to the endemic corruption that corporations have been guilty of since the coups supported by Chiquita and the CIA in Central America and the bribes given to the new leaders of Africa shortly after the wave of independence on that continent.

As Europeans who read and consume The Economist, we are more concerned with our western democracies than with the rest of the world.

In that way, people focus on the capitalist-oriented democratic countries and not on anti-democratic corporations and their destruction of the environment and democracy.

Born on the foothills of Castle Frankenstein, Thomas Klikauer is the author of over 950 publications including a book on media capitalism.

Danny Antonelli grew up in the USA, now lives in Hamburg, Germany and writes radio plays, stories and is a professional lyricist and librettist.


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