The current moment confronts us with a paradox. The first fifteen years of this century have been a time of astonishing advances in communications and information technology, including digitalization, mass-accessible video platforms, smart phones, social media, billions of people gaining internet access, and much else. These revolutionary changes all imply a profound empowerment of individuals through exponentially greater access to information, tremendous ease of communication and data-sharing, and formidable tools for networking. Yet despite these changes, democracy — a political system based on the idea of the empowerment of individuals — has in these same years become stagnant in the world. The number of democracies today is basically no greater than it was at the start of the century. Many democracies, both long-established ones and newer ones, are experiencing serious institutional debilities and weak public confidence. How can we reconcile these two contrasting global realities — the unprecedented advance of technologies that facilitate individual empowerment and the overall lack of advance of democracy worldwide? To help answer this question, I asked six experts on political change, all from very different professional and national perspectives. Here are their responses, followed by a few brief observations of my own.
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