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“The Founding Fathers of the United States embarked on a great experiment in modern democracy when they set up a self-governing republic at a time when similar undertakings had miserably failed in every country where they had been tried,” CFR Senior Fellow Yascha Mounk explains in his latest book The Great Experiment: Why Diverse Democracies Fall Apart and How They Can Endure.
“Today, we are embarking on a similarly novel endeavor. At a time when there is little precedent for them, we have stumbled into a great experiment in building highly diverse democracies that manage to endure and, hopefully, treat their members fairly,” he writes.
Mounk—an expert on the rise of populism and crises of liberal democracy—traces the challenge of building multiethnic democracies, chronicles the costs society would pay should they fail, and offers a clear roadmap for how they can succeed. The author explains that most societies in history have been highly homogeneous or deeply unjust; even mature democracies have not succeeded in treating all of their members fairly.
Mounk underscores that both diversity and democracy can pose challenges to a successful society, noting that, historically, diversity has often led to conflict, and warns that “increasingly, we are losing sight of the goal: a vision of the future that members of both majority and minority groups can wholeheartedly embrace.” And yet, Mounk maintains an optimistic vision for the many countries in the world, including the United States, that are trying to do just that.
“For the great experiment to succeed, we must build diverse democracies that actually attract the wholehearted support of their members: societies whose residents feel pride in their collective accomplishments, encounter strangers with an open mind, and are capable of sustaining real solidarity with each other.” To this end, Mounk outlines steps that citizens and policymakers can take:
- Embrace patriotism. Inclusive patriotism can help to tie citizens to each other, based on a country’s civic traditions, as well as the everyday culture that its citizens share.
- Reject the idea that demography is destiny. It is dangerous to assume that politics will inevitably become more progressive as diverse populations grow, amounting to a dystopian view of the future in which the country will be forever split into two mutually hostile halves.
- Celebrate progress. Most minority groups in the United States have experienced significant economic mobility, improved educational outcomes, and increased participation in the expanded American mainstream. While much work remains to overcome persistent inequalities and injustices, recognizing this progress can provide insight into how to build diverse democracies that flourish.
“Constructing diverse democracies that command the enthusiastic consent of the great majority of their citizens is going to be hard,” Mounk writes. “We need to have the courage to paint the vision of a shared future that most people would actually want to live in—one in which as many people as possible conceive of themselves as proud and optimistic citizens of diverse democracies, choosing to emphasize what we have in common rather than what divides us.”
To interview the author, please contact CFR Communications at 212.434.9888 or [email protected].