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Is the global liberal democratic order in danger? Purposefully constructed in the aftermath of World War II, this order -- and the American leadership that is central to its success --has contributed to securing peace and expanding prosperity in the United States and around the world. Today, that order appears to be dissolving. This crisis is not new or sudden; it has been mounting for several years.
Global challenges like authoritarian capitalism, violent extremism, demographic pressures, and displaced populations have placed global freedom in decline. Fraying traditional alliances united by core values of freedom are increasingly weak to respond.
It is alarming that the downdraft in democratic resilience over the past decade or more includes countries that have long been part of the consolidated democratic West. This is democratic deconsolidation. In much of the Western world, we see a rise in demagogic populism, illiberalism, nationalism, protectionism, and waning confidence in free markets and the institutions of democracy. Even in nations like Australia, Britain, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, and the United States, the percentage of people who say it is “essential” to live in a democracy has plummeted especially among younger generations. This is what the scholars Yascha Mounk and Roberto Stefan Foa call a “crisis of democratic legitimacy.”
In response, the George W. Bush Institute is launching a new effort to reaffirm the core American principles of political democracy and free markets. We aim to enable younger Americans to understand and embrace these precepts in order to galvanize a 21st century consensus that it is in the American interest to lead in their strengthening worldwide.
When the United States leads with confidence, wisdom, and fidelity to our Nation’s most important enduring principles, respect for individual human rights, more widely shared economic prosperity, and stable international peace are heightened around the globe. This is the nexus of freedom, free markets and security.
The Bush Institute will lead an inclusive bipartisan exploration into why the liberal democratic order is at risk and faith in democracy is waning - and what, practically, to do about it. The project will focus on:
- The Wider World: What is the U.S. role or responsibility relative to the uncertain state of democracy in the world, including both the resurgence of authoritarian confidence and the loss of faith in democracy in the Western world and the related rise of illiberal and so-called populist forces;
- Here at Home: How serious is the apparent weakening of democratic sensibility in the United States, especially among the millennial generation; and
- Call to Action: What should we do about these matters?
It is imperative that we speak to this moment, more fully understanding what is driving anti-democratic currents, and offer a compelling alternative to them - one that captures the patriotic imagination of Americans. To be equal to the challenges that now confront the Free World, we need to be clear and confident about what we are fighting for; not just what we are fighting against. Our goal is to guide the national conversation toward renewed national pride in what makes America indispensable to the survival of freedom in the modern world.
As a fellow with the Human Freedom Initiative, Thomas O. Melia is helping lead an effort to reaffirm core values of freedom, free markets, and liberal democracy. One of the goals of the Human Freedom Initiative is to foster a new bipartisan consensus that it is in the American interest to advance these principles at home and around the world.
Mr. Melia recently served in two senior positions in the Administration of President Barack Obama. As Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, Democracy and Labor from 2010 to 2015, he was responsible for the bureau’s work in Europe, South and Central Asia, and the Middle East. From December 2015 to January 2017, he served as Assistant Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Mr. Melia has written for numerous publications, including the Washington Post, The New Republic, Journal of Democracy and The American Interest. He is co-editor of Today’s American: How Free? – a comprehensive assessment of the state of civil liberties and political democracy in the United States.
Earlier in his career, Mr. Melia was Deputy Executive Director of Freedom House; Vice President for Programs at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs; and a legislative assistant to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY). He has taught in the graduate programs at Georgetown University and The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.
Mr. Melia lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland with his spouse, Amy S. Conroy, and their son, Tomás.Full Bio
As a fellow with the Human Freedom Initiative, Peter Wehner is helping lead an effort to reaffirm core values of freedom, free markets, and liberal democracy. One of the goals of the Human Freedom Initiative is to foster a new bipartisan consensus that it is in the American interest to advance these principles at home and around the world.
Mr. Wehner is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., where he writes widely on political, national security, cultural, and religious issues. He has written for numerous publications—including the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Financial Times, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, National Affairs, National Review, Christianity Today and Time magazine. In 2015 he was named a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. He also appears regularly as a commentator on television and talk radio.
Mr. Wehner served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush Administrations prior to becoming deputy director of speechwriting for President George W. Bush. In 2002, he was asked to head the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives, where he generated policy ideas, reached out to public intellectuals, published op-eds and essays, and provided counsel on a range of domestic and international issues.
Mr. Wehner is author of City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (co-authored with Michael J. Gerson) and Wealth and Justice: The Morality of Democratic Capitalism (co-authored with Arthur C. Brooks).Full Bio
What We're Reading
From headlines on North Korea to commentary on the importance of school principals, here's a look at what the Bush Institute policy teams have been reading in the news this week.
The Olympic Spotlight is on Korea, So Why Are the North Korean People Forgotten?
North Korea’s people are missing from the story when it comes to the Olympic Games in PyeongChang.
North Korea at the Olympics: Appearances vs. Reality
As we watch the Olympic games unfold, we must remember that only 50 miles away is the Demilitarized Zone and North Korea where millions are living in poverty.