With the rise of populist movements such as Donald Trump’s candidacy and Britain’s nationalist independence movement, many of the world’s leaders are worried that the global economy is at risk of spiralling into chaos. Democracy, individual rights and free markets have allowed ordinary people to exercise more control over their lives than ever before; but many are now questioning whether this freedom gone too far.
Nobody disputes that ordinary citizens have some rights and freedoms, but just what these freedoms should be is a matter still hotly debated by social and political scholars. For instance, the right to own dangerous firearms has been granted to Americans for centuries, but with the epidemic of mass shootings in America, a large number of social experts are urging congress to retract this right, in line with most other countries. It’s also hard to deny that ‘freedom of speech’ has been abused by far-right groups and conspiracy theorists, who continue to push toxic agendas that destabilize societies and economies. Each and every one of these ‘rights’ that many take for granted, needs to be reviewed and reconsidered in the context of a modern, globalized world.
Democracy also has its limitations. When citizens start to vote counter to economic and social experts on critical issues such as immigration, European unity and international trade, the greater good is no longer enhanced by the democratic process. The Brexit vote has not only destabilized Europe and sent the British economy into freefall – its effects have upset the entire global economy. Donald Trump’s rise to power has also disrupted the political process in America, and should he rise to the presidency he threatens to overturn decades of social and economic progress.
Global leaders need to re-assert their authority and remind the general population that democratic rights are not universal or sacred. The governing structures, legal institutions and central banks that make modern democracy possible are upheld and maintained by a select group of political, social and economic experts. The rights that ordinary people enjoy are granted by those who run the political machinery, and as such may be suspended at any time for the greater good. Global leaders have a responsibility to stand in the way of populist uprisings that threaten to wipe out decades of political progress; and not to passively affirm the will of the people. What happened in Britain and what is happening in America are both a consequence of weak leadership, and it is going to take assertiveness from world leaders, not acquiescence to popular opinion, to restore the global order.