In countries where I am directly involved, the 21st century has already experienced at least a half-dozen constitutional crises. The sad fact – hard to swallow and difficult to deny – is that nearly forty percent of UN member nations are now categorized not merely as failed states – but as “failed democracies.”Our central challenge in this new century – as leaders and future leaders of our world – is to renew the democratic promise. The saving grace which democratic systems are most likely to possess, after all, is that they are self-correcting. A system of public accountability still provides the best hope for change without violence. And that virtue alone redeems the entire concept. It explains Churchill’s famous view that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all others.Our challenge is not to find alternatives to democracy, but to find more and better ways to make democracy work. In responding to that challenge today, I would like to make four observations – four suggestions for addressing our democratic disappointments and advancing our democratic hopes.
My comments involve, first, the need for greater flexibility in defining the paths to democracy; secondly, the need for greater diversity in the institutions which participate in democratic life; thirdly, the need to expand the public’s capacity for democracy; and finally, the need to strengthen public integrity– on which democracy rests. Let me say a few words about each.
Address by His Highness the Aga Khan to the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University – May 15, 2006