The idea of democracy has revolutionized the world. It is based on a political order whose main feature is making the exercise of power subject to the consent of the governed. Since its ancient and glorious Athenian roots, the idea has spread across land and sea. The English Bill of Rights in 1689, the United States Constitution in 1787, and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789 marked the arrival of political freedom in the world with distinction. It spread across Europe in the 19th century, powering nations with the emancipating force of the peoples’ right to self-determination. During the 20th century it triumphed over modern tyrannies, repelling fascist regimes, the Nazis and their allies, then defeating Communism after a Cold War that ended with the collapse of the USSR.
However, as we enter the 21st century, the horizon looks darker. It is no longer simply a question of strengthening the democratic process where it is still fragile, but rather of protecting, or even defending, established democracies. Globalization, a paradoxical triumph of the West, destabilizes democracies while offering unprecedented opportunities for development and expansion to powers that have no interest in the path to freedom. For the first time since its creation, democracy is no longer certain of inspiring the world.
It is in this new and troubled context that we wanted to bring together our two institutions: on the one hand, the Fondation pour l’innovation politique, a French think tank committed to defending the values of freedom and progress and the ideals of the European Union; on the other, the International Republican Institute, an American think tank that promotes democracy worldwide. The results of this international study, carried out in forty-two democracies, are presented here under the title Democracies under pressure.
The document is comprised of two volumes: the first volume is devoted to themes and issues, such as trust in institutions, support for the model of representative democracy, support for abortion or the death penalty, the decline of democratic values among younger generations, etc.; the second volume is dedicated to the forty-two countries of the survey, offering a fact sheet for each that summarizes the state of national public opinion. We also present the reader with an “Index of Democratic Culture” that makes it possible to rank each country in relation to the others.