In 2016, while criticizing Israel’s intransigence in dealing with local Muslims, then-Secretary of State John Kerry said: “Israel can either be Jewish or democratic — it cannot be both.” It was an acute observation that neatly captured the security dilemma of a state that combines a staunchly-defended identity with liberal/cosmopolitan aspirations. The same concern, writ large, also faces the incumbent Western dominated global power structure and explains why global democracy is a (very) long term prospect. In other words, the world can be Western/liberal/progressive/ Enlightened or it can be democratic—it cannot be both.
At the Congress of Vienna in 1815, where the “Concert” of (European) Great Powers agreed to work together and, along the way, kept the dozens of smaller fry out in the anteroom while they sorted out what we would call “geopolitical” issues. This was the first effort at on-going international cooperation which spawned, in the 20C and on a now-global stage, the League of Nations and, later, the UN. In both cases, the “Great Powers” preserved a distinctive status and power, the better to protect themselves against the mass of smaller states who might out-vote them if everything was a ‘one-state, one-vote’ system.
We can see similar concerns in the structure of both the US government and the European Union, where balances were struck between the “equality of states” claims of smaller members and heft of the potentially dominant larger states. In the US, we have a Senate with equal representation of the states and a House where California has 50+ times the weight of Wyoming. In the EU, a more complex, weighted-voting system was adopted.
On a global scale, the “Western” countries total well less than 1B people, a bit over 10% of the total world population, even while their share of global GDP is about 50% and their share of military power (as measured by spending) is over 2/3. While long-term development trends will ameliorate these discrepancies, the mis-match over the next fifty years is clear. Territorially-organized nations states will remain the fundamental mode of global political organization, both on a domestic basis and in terms of international organizations. Barring the arrival of extra-terrestrials or a global climate or pandemic cataclysm, the chances of the moving towards global democracy—i.e. population-weighted voting at the international level (much less direct democracy based on the model of one global person=one vote)—will remain a distant idealistic dream.
As I noted in my piece on Sci-Fi governments, the only other models on offer depend on the elimination of the nation-state as the central premise of global political organization. Current political leaders (whether of the Trump/Bolsonaro/Orban/Xi variety or of a more liberal bent) are unlikely to crack this essential epistemological component of the modern world.
Still, it will be interesting to see if and how India and China, as the two largest (by far) countries in terms of population start making noises about “majoritarian” mind-sets. We might also see some movement in that direction from countries whose population is set to put them in the top group over the next few decades (e.g. Indonesia (currently #4) , Brazil, Nigeria (perhaps overtaking the US for #3 in 25 years), Pakistan, Bangladesh, Congo, Tanzania, Ethiopia). This trend will be exacerbated by the long-term decline in Western birthrates, of which Japan is the leading example.
How the “democratic” countries of the West react to being hoist on the petard of their own liberal, one-person, one-vote rhetoric and domestic structures will be fascinating. Certainly there will be carping about the democratic defects of these parvenues (or at least those defects to which non-Western states uniquely susceptible). Shortcomings in the US (Georgia voting rules and electoral college), the EU (toothless parliament), UK (monarchy and House of Lords) will be bandied about in return.
Even disregarding these democratic defects, the working assumption of the liberal/progressive/Enlightened/cosmopolitan elites has been comparable to the standard of “civilization” which European empires applied in the 19/20C to determine who was worthy of recognition and inclusion in the “family of nations.” The current version, there is a belief (hope?) that the laggards will catch up (India has been key here) and join the club of already “enlightened/civilized” societies, thereby enabling and justifying a semi-utopian world government in which the global management of democratic norms could be safely entrusted to the now-adult countries who had emerged from their tutelage (with a nod to the echoes of Greece-->Rome and Britain-->US). But just as Rome and the US went their own (respective) ways, so, too the shape of global governance in the 21/22C will be determined more by India/China/Nigeria/Indonesia/Brazil than Europe (and perhaps even than the US). Indeed, it must if the one-person: one-vote standard is to be achieved.
So, the incumbent powers face a dilemma: whether to honor their own mythologies and rhetoric or to retain power (UN vetoes, IMF appointments) until they are confident that the late-comers are sufficiently aligned (co-opted/indoctrinated?) so that things can be safely handed-off to them to preserve these aspirations. Recent developments (nationalistic/nativistic governments, repression of democratic mechanisms, apathy) make this more difficult; but the fundamental issue is that global power (economic/military) will trump democracy and demographics for a long time to come.