The future of democracy


Human progress is reflected in the realization of ever greater, value-generating plus-sum games. Honesty and transparency are the key to success. Only by leveraging our scant moral resources can we hope to inculcate fair play and create the preconditions for worldwide democratic cooperation. Whatever the outcome, democracy is the only political system worthy of man. Whether or not mankind can live up to this dignity remains an open question.

Where are we headed? We have only the faintest idea. When do we arrive? We will never arrive. The key questions are these: Do we really believe in our own values? Are we ready to grasp the chance to build a better world which, for the first time in history, is within reach? Ultimately, our task is not to predict the future but to form it.


-New technology will in the foreseeable future solve most of our environmental problems and help us to ward off other predictable dangers.

-The rectification of the distorted population structure is up to ourselves; a democracy is always in the wrong but, like the market, it is constantly correcting itself.

-A sensible world order can be erected through trustful cooperation between major democratic powers, while a sovereign global government would be a disaster.

-The expansion of democracy must not lead to conceited passivity; the democratic mission implies continuous value generation and regeneration.

-The future of humanity depends on our response to these challenges and the accumulation of the relevant moral capital.

The Lessons of history

Historically, high cultures have paid for their stability by stagnation and suppression. The cultural evolution is mainly driven by communication between people and peoples; the plus-sum game builds on the exchange, borrowing, copying and hybridization of ideas. Democratic learning is an extended process and every new generation has to pass the political manhood test. The road to collective self-control is lined with temptations; democracy cannot be handed over as a gift. The price to be paid is respect for the overriding rules of the game at the expense of personal advantage and immediate satisfaction. Our future cannot be foreseen but for that very reason it depends on us, ourselves.

Despairing of organized religion, many enlightened minds have called for the wholesale repudiation of religious devotion. Such arrogance is misplaced, to say the least; in their disorientation people accept any misbelief on offer. The capacity for self-organization will waste away, and the historical machine can run its unobstructed, downhill course.

Democracy in its modern shape has a short history. Many things can and will go wrong during the next decades, centuries and millennia. But a lot speaks in favor of democracy as a robust platform for sustainable human cooperation. The preconditions exist for breaking the historical pattern of rise and fall. Our future cannot be foreseen but for that very reason it depends on us, ourselves.

Threats galore

When the comet comes, we must be prepared to take our destiny in our own hands. Only global challenges such as threats from space and the release of greenhouse gases imply stringent international coordination. Virus-induced pandemics may also require strict quarantine and extensive vaccination. The global population increase is slackening, and it should level out at about ten billion people, but the developed countries are threatened by a demographic implosion. Destructive cultural collisions constitute the main threat to our common future. Time and again, constructive plus-sum play has fallen prey to discouraging historical experience and deep-rooted prejudices.

We are playing for high stakes, and there is every reason to consider seriously the many disheartening scenarios. The breakdown of democracy has often been preceded by starry-eyed optimism and unsuspecting economic follies. Unshakable self-confidence is indispensable in distress; yet it becomes a crippling burden in the hour of prosperity. In adversity we could perhaps do without the support of a Supreme Being, but a helping hand will be sorely needed when we emerge tainted by triumph.

The mission of democracy

Western civilization is in the process of incorporating all humanity in a grand coalition, a worldwide decentralized meta-culture. The moral responsibility for various abnormalities thus falls to some extent on our doorstep, although we can gently refute enforced obligations at a global level. Our first duty is to put our own house in order but, concurrently, we are bound to work and missionize for better rules and better play, giving further form to those values which have stood the test of time. This process should help us to clarify our faith while constructing the proper tools for shaping a worthwhile future for mankind.

Only an empowered European Union can be an equal partner to the United States and carry its part of the responsibility for the future of democracy. A legitimate global government is an insoluble equation – a contradiction in terms. Instead we ought to aim for worldwide political self-organization. A group of major powers in peaceful cooperation could stand surety for international stability without loosing their sovereign status.

The lifeblood of democracy is free self-organization with power and responsibility decentralized to the lowest feasible level; democracies convert complexity to an asset. Energy is a key resource which will not be in short supply even if the price may rise. The democratization of information is the most significant outcome of the computer revolution – knowledge cannot be monopolized any more. Space research is the ultimate scientific and technical challenge; it is a focus for human ingenuity, perseverance and faith in the future. When, and if, our genetic set-up can be systematically modified by biotechnology, humanity will face its greatest ethical challenge ever.

What would a reasonably democratic world be like? A democracy has the fundamental right to continuously redefine itself within a broad framework. Free elections, a market economy and respect for human rights are the minimum prerequisites set forth by the Paris declaration of 1990, which formally put an end to the cold war. Every democracy has to find its own forms for human cohabitation and realize its own plus-sum game – independently, or within the frame of a self-selected confederation, federation or something in between, like the European Union. The upshot will probably be a multitude of dissimilar democracies.

If we can mobilize enough morality, there are no limits to a grand plus-sum game where the vast majority of mankind is participating, body and soul. The specter of overpopulation is fading away and will disappear if everybody can and wants to take full responsibility for his and her offspring. If all the pieces are falling into place, every new citizen is an asset, not a burden. To speculate over the outcome of such a dynamic development is a vain undertaking. The direction and the route are important, valuable goals will appear during the voyage of discovery.

Democracy and faith

We have, free of charge, been blessed with much to be thankful for and to care for. I may sound like a revivalist preacher but it does not alter the fact that every new generation has to restrain its life appetites and recreate a durable morality in order to earn its freedom and prosperity. We must be prepared for reverses; neither natural disasters nor nuclear terrorists must shake our faith and thus destroy the long-term plus-sum game. Faith in God, faith in the future and a sound self-confidence are all interconnected, regardless of religious or ideological quibbles. The self-destructive alternative is unchecked conceit and limitless self-seeking – literally hopeless expressions of life ennui.

Alexis de Tocqueville declared (in Democracy in America, 1835) that the development and maintenance of democracy in the United States is dependent on the religious heritage of the founding fathers and he elevated this finding to a universal truth: “I am inclined to think that if faith is wanting in him, he must be subject, and if he be free, he must believe”. Herman Melville (1819–1891), that all-American writer, exclaims in jesting earnest: “The Great God absolute! The centre and circumference of all democracy! His omnipotence, our divine equality.”

Democratic meta-rules are imbued with an awareness of human fallibility, the fragility of institutions and the limitations of even the greatest statesmen. The real struggle for power is decided not on the political platform but in people’s hearts and minds. There our values compete, there the cynic and the progress dynamo fight for supremacy – a troubled conscience is a crucial prerequisite of democracy. The rules of the market economy and of political democracy reveal a remarkable congruity; the meta-rules of the self-organizing market game are a crude projection of fundamental democratic values. This supports the conclusion that modern democracy is a good model, perhaps the only one, for a sustained human plus-sum game.