44th Lecture

Unplanned Obsolescence? Institutions and Democracy,

Unplanned Obsolescence? Institutions and Democracy

Max Rodenbeck

Editor, South Asia, The Economist

July 27, 2018


Democracy faced its most serious crisis in decades in 2017 as its basic tenets—including guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and the rule of law came under attack around the world. According to a report by Freedom in the world 2018, seventy-one countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties, with only 35 registering gains. This marked the 12th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. The uneven benefits of globalisation are dividing societies into winners and losers on an unprecedented scale.

Global markets are creating billionaires, whilst the incomes of the middle and working classes in developed countries have stagnated and their livelihoods are becoming ever more vulnerable to technological change and global competition. When wealth is too concentrated, the polity becomes vulnerable to oligarchy. If there are too many poor, the polity can degenerate into populism, disorder and the confiscation of private property. The middle class is the backbone of a democracy and Aristotle advocated that it should always far outnumber both the poor and the rich.


  • Is democracy in crisis around the world?
  • How are the challenges to Indian democracy similar or different?
  • Why are institutions that were designed to create checks and balances not working properly?
  • What is more important, saving 'democracy' or saving the state?


Max Rodenbeck was born in Virginia, USA of mixed American and British parentage and raised between Egypt, Europe and America. After boarding school in New England he studied at Wesleyan University and the American University in Cairo, receiving a degree in Islamic History. Mr Rodenbeck began his career as a journalist in the Middle East, writing for numerous publications including the Financial Times, The Economist, the Los Angeles Times, Foreign Affairs and the New York Review of Books, and covering such events as the first Gulf War, two Palestinian Intifadas, the Algerian Civil War and the spread of Islamist extremism.

In 2000 he became a staff writer for The Economist, and for 15 years served as its Middle East Bureau Chief. Reporting across the region from Morocco to Iran, and from Turkey to Sudan, he covered wars in Iraq (2003), Lebanon (2006), Libya (2011) and Syria (2012-13), as well as all the revolutions of the Arab Spring, the Green Movement in Iran (2009) and the rise of Erdogan in Turkey (2013-15). Since 2016 he has been the paper's South Asia Bureau Chief, based in Delhi.

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