Bringing Freedom to the Forefront of 21st Century Politics

Learn more about Thomas Melia.
Thomas Melia
Washington Director, PEN America and former Fellow, Human Freedom at the George W. Bush Institute

Global challenges like authoritarian capitalism, violent extremism, demographic pressures, and displaced populations have placed global freedom in decline.

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.