Democracy and its enemies
In the coming year the people who run the world will change—and so could the ideas, predicts John Micklethwait
Nov 17th 2011 | from The World In 2012 print edition
Politics always operates at two levels. There is the immediate, pragmatic level of the struggle for power: which party wins an election, who becomes prime minister, dictator or king. But there is also the underlying struggle of ideas: the battle between left and right, between liberalism and autocracy. Occasionally, these two sorts of politics coincide dramatically—as in France in 1789, Russia in 1917, eastern Europe in 1989 and arguably the Arab world in 2011. More often, though, the faces change more quickly than the theories, especially in democracies, and the pattern is obvious only in retrospect. Few Britons realised how important Margaret Thatcher would be when they elected her in 1979; even fewer Americans spotted the arrival of a new brand of conservatism in Barry Goldwater’s humiliating defeat in the 1964 presidential election.
From this perspective, predicting that any year will come to be seen as a political landmark is a mug’s game. But 2012 stands a good chance of being pivotal, both in terms of people and a clash of ideas.