Should we turn the whole world into democracies?
A speculative World War III could create a fourth wave of democracy—or we could lose it altogether.
Authoritarian governments are totally cool with taking over other countries. Russia’s doing it, China’s likely to keep doing it, and 40 countries that are already a little bit authoritarian are becoming much more so as their leaders whittle away whatever democratic rights still exist.
Meanwhile, democratic governments generally avoid taking over other countries. We might play defense—like trying to keep Ukraine from becoming a totalitarian country—but we’re not about to play offense and try to turn totalitarian countries like Russia or China into democracies. Not to mention, we’re just electing totalitarian-inclined leaders into office.
The result is that authoritarian governments are expanding and democracies aren’t. And that’s bad. Because not only are democracies not growing, but since 2016, they have been on the decline. All it would take is the second and third largest militaries in the world, China and Russia, ganging up against the largest, the US, and poof—democracy dies.
If we can anticipate a future where the scales tip either toward autocracy or democracy as a result, shouldn’t the democracies be a little more proactive to avoid the eventuality that they die? I don’t think democracy is the best thing we can come up with in the future of humanity, but do we really want to imagine a world in which autocracy is once again the rule? (Because it’s very hard to get rid of an autocracy once you have one.)
So I’ve often wondered: How far should the democracies go to protect themselves against autocracy? Like, on a scale from “democracies never get involved globally and other countries are left to be taken over by autocratic governments” to “we defend all democracy everywhere but don’t try to spread it,” to “we go on the offense and turn every country in the world into a democracy,” where should we stand?
Let’s play out our options starting with that last and most aggressive one: What if the democracies go on the offense instead of the defense? What if they take on the autocracies in a World War III-style confrontation, and win? What if China and Russia become democracies as a result? What would the world be like if most of it was democratic and all of the superpowers were?
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