march for science facts T.Seeliger/ullstein bild/Getty Images

Defending Democracy’s Essence

For any democracy to be meaningful, citizens need open access to trustworthy information produced in a free and pluralistic environment. With this basic requirement being tested as never before, some of the world’s leading civil-society advocates are unveiling their plan to fight back.

PARIS – On December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, affirming the view that “the will of the people” – democracy – should form the basis of any government. But seven decades later, the world’s democracies are in peril. After a fourfold increase in the number of democracies between the end of World War II and 2000, we are now in a sustained period of political regression. Once-open societies are veering toward dictatorship, and in many countries, despotic tendencies are strengthening.

These trends can be reversed, but only if we agree on the causes of democratic backsliding and target our solutions accordingly.

That is easier said than done. In her 1967 essay “Truth and Politics,” the philosopher Hannah Arendt noted that, “Freedom of opinion is a farce unless factual information is guaranteed and the facts themselves are not in dispute.” Unfortunately, Arendt’s farce has become our reality.