Global Ethics Weekly: Liberal Democracy, Empathy, & AI, with Alexander Görlach

Mar 28, 2019

In this wide-ranging talk, Carnegie Council Senior Fellow Alexander Görlach discusses the importance of empathy in liberal democracies, the shocking Uyghur detention in China, and how AI is affecting all facets of society. What does liberalism look like in 2019? How will technology change democracy and religion?

ALEX WOODSON: Welcome to Global Ethics Weekly. I'm Alex Woodson from Carnegie Council in New York City.

This week's talk is with Carnegie Council Senior Fellow Alexander Gorlach. Alex has had and has affiliations with Cambridge and Harvard, he has a professorship on ethics in Germany, and he is editor in chief of Conditio Humana. Alex writes frequently on issues relating to democracy, liberalism, religion and recently artificial intelligence. We touched on all of these topics and much more in our wide-ranging talk.

Alex, thank you so much for coming today. Great to see you again.

ALEXANDER GÖRLACH: Great to see you. Thanks for having me again. I can only say that it's an honor to be back to this program and that I enjoyed my fellowship here for the last two years very much. Thank you.

ALEX WOODSON: Great. We've enjoyed having you as a fellow.

As you said, you've been a fellow here for two years. There has been a lot that has happened in the world in the last two years, since 2017. Where are we as far as liberal democracy? Are things better? Are things worse? Kind of set the stage for us, where we are right now.

ALEXANDER GÖRLACH: Thank you. It's a great question.

Two years ago, we had the election in the United States and we had the Brexit referendum. Big picture-wise, if you remember, 25 years ago we had two directions: the one was the Fukuyama thing, saying like we go toward the "end of history" and liberal democracy will prevail, and there was Huntington at Harvard saying, "No, we're going to see the clash of civilizations."

Basically, those two with their books actually coined terms that have been around the discussion ever since, and there has been sort of a consensus that Huntington is more right than Fukuyama. Looking into the last two years, I would actually say, no, that's not the case.

We see, of course, several centers of gravity nowadays, but overarchingly we have two groups of countries: one are the democratic countries, and by that I mean constitutional countries that are based on human rights and therefore deploy the rule of law based on these human rights; and the other nations. So even though they are very nuanced, and democracy in Taiwan is different than democracy in Canada, those countries are, as they call it in diplomacy, "like-minded" countries, and they share much more than separates them. So I'd say this is where we stand now. We see much clearer where the world is headed, and it's going to be for better or worse again like a two-bloc sort of world.

ALEX WOODSON: You have an upcoming book as well. It's on identity, empathy, and democracy. I know empathy is something that you think about a lot. You wrote something very recently about empathy.

What do you really mean by empathy in this context, when it comes to politics and democracy?

ALEXANDER GÖRLACH: When we talk about the liberal world order, what do we actually mean? You can narrow that down to a few things. Very often you hear the term "collaboration," and that's what the international order is about, and it's different than it used to be in democracies or republics before the Second World War. But even that, your willingness to cooperate rests upon empathy, empathy meaning it's grounded in reasoning, but it's also reflecting on the emotional side of things. This is what this world order revolves around.

If you look at the opposite, the opposite would be the resentment, and the resentment is like, "This is us, and there's them, and we are better than the others," so this Us v. Them, which is based on resentment, cannot come to reasonable conclusions or solutions for policy problems, and that's why I think it's important to revolve around empathy.

I'll give you one example: the refugee crisis in Europe. If you look at it with empathy, it's clear that we cannot in Europe take in all the refugees from Africa, for instance. But it's also part of empathy to understand and try to understand why these people leave and why they are coming and heading toward Europe. That's what I mean by empathy.

If you look into the Salvinis in Italy or the Alternative für Deutschland (AFD) in Germany or the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in England, there is a total lack of this empathy and of this will of understanding what are the motivators of others.

ALEX WOODSON: One thing that might feed into this—I know this is something that you've written about—is coming to grips with your past. The United States—you've written about the Civil War and how Confederate monuments are still an issue; in Taiwan you've written about their dictatorial past and how they have a democracy now; in Germany, obviously, there's a lot in its past that Germany has to come to grips with and maybe is still working on that.

Does that feed into something like UKIP or something like the rise of these far-right groups in Germany and throughout Europe, the fact that we haven't come to grips collectively with our past and things that we've done wrong in the past?

ALEXANDER GÖRLACH: Fukuyama was under the impression that there are more and more countries joining the democratic club. That also means that by definition they have not been democracies before.

So Taiwan, that you mentioned, has now been a democracy for roughly a quarter century, but before that it was a dictatorship, too. Germany is now reunified for almost 30 years, but the East remained a dictatorship until 1989. So what happened after the fall of the Wall was that former perpetrators and victims lived in the same street, people from the secret police and their victims.

Of course, in order to then establish and build a new form of society you have to look into your past and be quite adamant and firm about it. This is hard.

The Germans after World War II needed one generation to be confronted by the next generation, the 1968 movement, when they asked their parents, "So, Dad, what did you do in the war?" It's all but easy to confront yourself with the past.

I'm not sure if there's a direct link between not doing that and ending up at UKIP or something, but we have these new right movements in all of Germany, but there is more to it in the former East, and that has to do in Germany's context that after the war ended and the East became the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and a communist country, they made it by definition an anti-fascist sort of country, which meant "There are no fascists in this country; they are all in the West," and that prevented them from talking about the Nazi times in the GDR, which then of course leads to today having more neo-Nazis in this part of our country.

I guess that's something that if you do not look into the past and if you're not willing to learn from it, then of course you may be ending up—and this is what you said about this country, 150 years after the Civil War still not being at terms with your past.

ALEX WOODSON: Do you have strategies or ideas for how to confront your past and work toward this empathy that you're talking about?

ALEXANDER GÖRLACH: I don't have a three-point what-are-we-going-to-do, but if you talk to, let's say, in this country mild Republicans or conservatives in Europe, there is very often between the left and the right only a disagreement in the tools of what's to be done policy-wise. But in this country, in my opinion, Democrats and Republicans alike want to secure the borders. It's like Mr. Trump coming up with this wall, which for a variety of reasons seems to not be feasible and reasonable, but it also comes with a very divisive rhetoric.

That's what I mean by empathy. You have to secure the borders, and I guess many Democrats and Republicans agree on that, but how you try to achieve that may be much of a difference.

So you talk to these "mild" conservatives, if you will, like reasonable conservatives—I think there is a difference between nationalism and patriotism, and that's also something that is true in many countries I observe. If you're a patriot, you love your country, and you know other people do love their country, too. That creates a bond, actually. But if you're a nationalist, you believe that your country is better than the others, and that's when it all starts going downhill.

There is no shame in loving your country, and I'm quite aware here in the United States that Democrats and Republicans love their country alike. But when you enter this with this nationalistic twist which makes you better than the others—which you see in India and China and many parts of the world; it's not only in this country, it's also in Germany—I think that's when it starts to go downhill.

ALEX WOODSON: You mentioned China. This is something that you've written about as well, the Uyghur detention, the Uyghur repression, whatever you want to call it, in Western China. There could be a million people in what some people are calling concentration camps in Western China. This is a very clear example of nationalism gone extremely wrong. And you've written that Germany has a responsibility more than other nations to intervene, to do something about it.

What do you really mean? What should Germany be doing in this situation with China and the Uyghurs?

ALEXANDER GÖRLACH: The situation is sad in many regards, but it's super-sad in the sense that you wonder why the Chinese leadership did that. If you look into the economic development and the societal development of China, you could say from Hong Kong to—if you have this whole country and everything beneath that line in the south is going great economically wise, there's Shenzhen, a huge hub. There are plenty of other cities that do well.

So why go north of that line and having Tibet and Xinjiang and also Inner Mongolia, where you have, some would argue, occupied territories and others would say that's part of China. We won't go there. But there is no need actually to change the policy that was in effect until Xi Jinping came to power. There was a Han dominance, but it was still trying to manage somehow the other ethnicities, but now this has all changed to an extent that from what we know nowadays up to a million people are in concentration camps because of their, let's say, identity in ethnic and religious regards, if you will.

I think this is utterly shocking. I guess when all the things came to happen in Tibet, Europe and the United States were still in the aftermath of World War II, so we didn't really pay attention to that. But some call it "cultural genocide" or whatever.

The thing is, as a German, we know from detaining people and putting them into a camp for features of their character, that's not a long road to then just say, "Oh, why don't we extinguish them." Maybe the Chinese do not plan to do that, but from the German perspective we do know it's a short way.

Also, now I think we are out of balance. The advantages of dealing with a trading partner like China—such a big market; everybody's excited; the Germans are also excited, much more than the soybean-exporting Americans, like we export cars and machinery. That's what drives the export nation of Germany.

But when it comes to genocidal tendencies, genocide is not an opinion. It's also not a legitimate policy measure, so I think the Federal Republic of Germany and our European allies have to make that quite clear to the People's Republic of China that we do not accept these concentration camps, and I'm happy that there have been some signs that internationally policymakers are not willing to keep up with China in that sense.

ALEX WOODSON: What are the signs that you've been seeing?

ALEXANDER GÖRLACH: Earlier this year China has been deploying another harsh wave of rhetoric toward Taiwan, and the German foreign minister and British and French [politicians] if I'm not mistaken all made statements declaring that the People's Republic should soften their tone and rather try to work on a peaceful solution with Taiwan than make war threats. I think you can see in the last two years also that the world has been changing its perspective on China's ambition, and that means Xi Jinping's ambition.

ALEX WOODSON: Yes. You see that in the United States, definitely. I think both sides have agreed that China needs to be contained a bit more than it has been.

Just to push this a little further, I would guess the way to hit back at China—you don't want to obviously get into a war with China—would be to hit back economically. China is a huge part of the global economy. Are people in Europe, are people in the United States ready to go through a recession, go through a depression maybe because of the Uyghur repression in China? Is that the right way to think about this?

ALEXANDER GÖRLACH: China still can decide where it wants to be. You feel like in the rhetoric also of Xi Jinping that the People's Republic of China wants to become a part of the international community. That's at least outside its borders; inside its borders it's a different story, but still there is a tendency and a leaning to become like such a responsible partner. That would, of course, by definition exclude concentration camps and also those measures that come with it. So China indeed has to make amends and figure out where they want to go, but again like what I said about the Fukuyama thesis, you now see, if you look in Syria you have China and Turkey and Iran meddling, and now you have the Russians saying to the Chinese, "Oh, why don't we work closer together?"

Again, you see the formation of camps, and that highlights what I believe is what we see, that the world is splitting up again into two larger camps. By this tendency, I'd say China has to make again the decision on which side it wants to stand.

Xi Jinping has changed the policies of the country. This year they celebrated 40 years of Deng Xiaopeng's reforms, and Deng Xiaopeng once was asked why he was dealing with the Americans, and he said that every country that dealt with the Americans was better off afterwards. And under Hu Jintao, who was before Xi Jinping, there was an opening of society, even a slight opening for civil society.

So now Xi Jinping goes around and says, "We have the Party and we have Confucianism, so we don't need democracy," meaning we don't need civil society. And you know until recently they had it, at least tiny openings in Taiwan.

I think that's why Xi really hates the Taiwanese model, if you will, because this is Han Chinese exercising liberal democracy. Actually, if you come to the island, you can feel it, that people are free to say what they want, they speak their minds, and they enjoy life. That's basically different to many parts of China.

ALEX WOODSON: You mentioned that the world is being divided into different camps. What's interesting about that—I think you make this point in one of your articles about China—is that we shouldn't blame the Chinese people. That's an obvious point, but it still needs to be said that we shouldn't blame the Chinese people for the decisions of their government. You see that in America with Donald Trump's approval ratings being very low.

You would consider America to be part of the democratic world, but you see Trump friends with Erdoğan, Duterte, Kim Jong-un maybe. There's a contradiction there that you have the citizens of countries that might want to be part of this democratic world order, but the leaders have very different thoughts.

ALEXANDER GÖRLACH: The thing about President Trump—and I think this is in the true sense of the matter un-American—is that he prefers the right of the strongest before the rule of law, and I guess that makes him very un-American. There's no doubt about it.

What I believe is enshrined or embodied in our world order is not very obvious, but it rests on human rights, as I said. But who guarantees these human rights? States do by granting citizenship.

So if I'm a German citizen in Germany, I'm under the constitution, and there are certain rights and privileges that never can be taken away from me because I'm a German, and this is regardless of my denomination, my religion, my racial background, or whatever. So that's basically what we deploy. The thoughts of Enlightenment and humanism came into the realm of polity and policy, and this is what the world rests upon.

If you now look into Putin, Erdoğan, or whatever, they would just always refer to the right of the stronger, which is again a rollback to before let's say the 1600s, which when Thomas Hobbes wrote about "the war of all against all" and this was this natural state that he wanted to overcome urgently.

People like Trump, by admiring the so-called "strongman" or "strong person" or "strong woman" you defy this order that rests upon the rule of law.

Then, if you look into the track records of these strong persons, they all tank the economies of their countries. Look, if your son-in-law is running the central bank and you are the president, clearly you cannot make any measures about how valid your economy is. You see it in Turkey, you see it in Russia. Now you also start seeing the signs in China, where at least the tendency is clear that the leadership style of Xi Jinping is not well-received by international markets.

Even their strongest point as President Trump makes it like these are strong men and they know how to run their country. No they don't. They tank their countries. That's a fact, economically speaking.

ALEX WOODSON: I want to move on to artificial intelligence (AI). You recently became editor-in-chief of ConditioHumana. Congratulations on that.


ALEX WOODSON: That sounds great.

You've written a lot about this: How do you see AI changing democracy? We've talked a lot here about how AI is going to change work and how it's going to change war, but how do you think it's going to change democracy?

ALEXANDER GÖRLACH: There is I think no doubt about the fact that democracy needs an update, is out of balance, has a flaw, and is in crisis. And what is that? To one degree or the other you see this in all democratic nations. The GDP is rising whereas household income is stagnating. There's not much doubt about these sorts of figures.

This is due to automation. Not everything that we have under this umbrella is AI, but it's buzzwords AI, digitalization, automation. It's an ongoing process, and we see it accelerated in the last quarter-century. One can say that. Before that, in the Industrial Revolution, it was slower.

What does this mean? You look at the figures of a society and you think, Oh, people are more better off and whatever, but they are not. So they cannot participate in society in democracy as they should.

America is actually a shockingly stunning example because for the longest time in history the United States, other than countries in Europe, were eager to accept inequalities as long as people could really make it from rags to riches.

When I was a kid the United States had the most agile and mobile society. People would move from Nebraska to whatever, Georgia, to take on a new job, and nowadays you see they are not. They are just sticking, and they also stick back to the families, which also highlights a bit the fact of Us vs. Them kind of thing because you are more confined to your family, and you cannot participate in the promises of democracy. You see this to one degree or another in other countries.

The good news is that only one country has to fix it, and then it is going to be applicable to all other democratic countries.

So I believe we need to discuss about AI therefore because it's having this huge impact on the fabric of democracies.

Another last point about why work because in Protestant nations like this or Germany, work and the ethic of work and the narrative of work have huge implications on the social status, the identity of oneself. If we now get challenged by AI, whatever that means, it will have repercussions on our identities in a moment where we already struggle with our identity.

ALEX WOODSON: This leads to what I wanted to talk about. You mentioned "rags to riches," Protestant work ethic. These are things that as an American you grow up hearing about. You're supposed to work hard, you're supposed to have a job. That's what it means to be a part of American society.

You think Germany is a similar type of society in that regard? Does that make a nation like the United States or Germany—are they going to have a tougher time dealing with job automation as opposed to maybe other European nations or other Asian nations, in your opinion?

ALEXANDER GÖRLACH: The impact will be the same. There is so much to be said about the Protestant work ethic. It's a term, right? But it's culturally implemented.

One of my first visits to this country was in 1995, and I went with a friend from high school who spent a year in the Midwest with family. So we were going to an outlet to get jeans super-cheap because they were here much cheaper than back home. And there were all these lads lined up in front of the changing rooms. They were waiting for their spouses or whatever. And all these men would talk about where they work. And you could clearly see they had different jobs, they had different backgrounds. But there was like a huge respect for the other working.

So this one banker, I was talking to this guy who had two delivery jobs, and that's actually what we perceived from the continent, from the Old World about the New World, that if you work hard, you have something to talk about it. This is also like the basis of respect.

Clearly, that is something that is deeply entrenched in the American mentality. We would call it, back then, it's too hyper capitalist, which as a European Catholic I think you put too much emphasis on work and being on fire all the time. But still this made the engine of this country go.

So when I work on narratives of identity it's about these underlying deep traits, and I always say this example: In the Latin language as in English, we say, "The sun rises and sets," and we know for 400 years that's not the case, but we are very slow in adapting. So our underlying currents, our narratives of identity, they root very deep, and we may not see this as the last, but it's actually the most imminent and most important thing to look at.

ALEX WOODSON: I want to ask you this question because on this stage about a year ago Stephanie Sy, who you had an interview with as well, talked to Andrew Yang, who is an entrepreneur. He is a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.

ALEXANDER GÖRLACH: I know him, yes.

ALEX WOODSON: His big idea is universal basic income, $1,000 a month for every American to offset automation, job losses. This is probably one of our most popular videos on YouTube that we've ever posted. I monitor comments every day. There's a very interesting discussion happening in the comment section that's pretty respectful, which you don't see too often in comments.

So there is great interest in universal basic income. There are obviously arguments for and against it. Where do you come down on universal basic income? Obviously, you know Germany better than any other country, but what are your general thoughts on that?

ALEXANDER GÖRLACH: Everything that tries to deal with the fact that GDP is rising and household income is stagnating is welcome to me, be it robot tax, be it basic universal income, because it changes over time our perception of the nature of work or whatever. So it's not necessarily about whether or not this is the policy measure that's going to be taken, but it's important to think about new models or options. I feel like they tried it in Finland and they were not really happy with the results.

People—and again this leads back to empathy—want fairness. The whole crisis now broke because after the Lehman Brothers collapse and President Obama taking the measures from the old toolbox and creating new jobs, which was great, but why are people not satisfied, and why was Trump elected? This is a stretch now, but also amongst other things because the feeling of fairness has been shattered and attacked and not treasured and cherished where everyone was. So you need to have a certain fairness, and that also implies somebody who wants to work harder gets more.

But what is the implication of basic universal income? You have $1,000, for instance, or €1,000, and you can pay stuff with it.

But you could also try the other way around and say, "We have $1,000 per person, and we invest this in schools and health care." Because clearly there is no democracy if you have no equal access to education and to health care.

Why health care? Because if people are starving or at the verge of starvation, it's reducing the IQ. There is proof for that. They are in anxiety for survival.

Clearly, if you have education and health care you provide a base, civic rights and social rights. What is it worth going to vote if you have nothing to eat or if you cannot go to school?

I would highly recommend to take this $1,000 and restore the foundations of democracy, which is equal access to the fabric of society, and I feel that's only possible through education and health care. Now you make the math in your country and then you know why democracy is in crisis here.

ALEX WOODSON: So you're saying that $1,000 times 350 million, instead we should use that to make society better, in essence.

ALEXANDER GÖRLACH: I feel like that what we know for now when it comes to basic universal income, which I am sympathetic toward in its result, but the same result can be achieved with another measure, meaning if you have to spend $1,000 less a month it's the same effect.

But the measurement, if you get $1,000, you will have this discussion, people buy cigarettes and drugs and all these kinds of things, but if we know there is $1,000 each month for each person and this is invested in schools and in health care, so that is also something, then you don't have to pay for your health care anymore or you don't have to pay that much tuition, so that means you have more money in your pocket by the end of the month, which is the same effect.

Something of that sort has to happen, and it has to happen with human beings, der Mensch, this is what ConditioHumana also means as the title of this magazine, has to be at the center. It's not about to cater to this industry or that or to a higher profit margin. Democracy revolves around people and not around profits.

If you readjust that, then you come to the conclusion that you need education and health care for everyone, and I guess the stability of European democracy is also due to that, compared to the United States.

ALEX WOODSON: Yes. It seems like that's a tough sell, though, universal education and universal health care.

ALEXANDER GÖRLACH: I feel like, and this is really a feeling, if you look into the quality axiomatic shift, back in the days it was left and right, capital and working class, and now it's more the cosmopolitans and the non-cosmopolitans, the anywheres and the somewheres. We can talk about this, too, because it's very prevalent in this country also.

What I think in this value shift, all these so-called cosmopolitans or anywheres, they have better education, they are better connected, they have better salaries. So clearly a good education pays off.

You can see it in every society. So, to just say, "Oh, no, education for everyone is crap," where's the proof? You complain about these well-connected elites. Why are they so well-connected? Because they have a college degree.

So now there's the question of how could they obtain it. Oh, because their parents have money. If you had Germany after the war, we called it "hour zero." I'm from the Catholic countryside of Germany. Back before the war, only every now and then one male would make it to higher education and then to a college because he became a priest.

But after the war and when we had equal conditions for everyone to enter schooling, now in my village not only I went to university. I have Ph.D.'s, I have doctors and lawyers and chemical engineer friends who are from this village, so you can totally see by the Western German example that if you have the urge of creating a new middle class you have the resource of your whole people and not just this tiny elite who went to Harvard and Yale.

ALEX WOODSON: Yes. I totally agree.

I know you also have some thoughts on AI as it relates to religion. As AI becomes more ubiquitous, what happens to religion? What happens to people who really are religious and spiritual?

ALEXANDER GÖRLACH: In the Enlightenment period they thought that everything else but ethics as an aspect of religion would vanish over time, and this has not happened. I am neither making a case for Nietzsche or for all the others who were like classic atheists in that sense.

I think what we know nowadays is that our identity revolves around a variety of things. Religion or what comes as religion is one large part of it.

Last year the Pew Institute in Washington did a survey amongst Europeans. I'm not sure which European countries were involved, but they were asking about Christianity and religious affiliation. Ninety percent of those surveyed could remember that they were baptized at some point. If you don't give anything about it, you would not know it; you would have forgotten it. Seventy percent of these people said they tried to live according to Christian values. This is also very blurry, but still they say that. But only 20 percent out of all of those went to church regularly.

So you see there is a clear and strong religion, and the narratives religion has and the rights it provides, and yes, the rituals, from Christmas tree to whatever, have a deep impact on us. So religion is not going to go because that's actually I think what they couldn't see in the Enlightenment period, how important it is for the fabric of society. This is why I'm still saying that, yes, in Europe we have Christian societies, but the question then is: What does it mean? Where does this lead to, and what is the real impact of Christianity on politics?

Frankly saying, if I look into Mr. Orbán's Hungary, he can just keep his Catholicism to himself because I think that's not really helpful in terms of policies, but that's my opinion.

But what would change in the time of AI? I have been getting criticism for that, but I believe what religions provide are these big narratives, and that's what makes them like—Harari says in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind it's mythology, religion, and gossip that keeps our societies afloat.

Religions were designed or came about in a time when people lived for maybe 30 years. So when Jesus walked the Earth, that's approximately the age. Then you talk about, for instance, marriage, and in Catholicism that you cannot divorce.

But nowadays we live maybe up to 100. Children born now will be living much longer, so they may get divorced after 30 years of marriage, and Catholicism cannot adjust to these new realities, so the rights that religion provides—and all do—are like birth, fertility, adolescence, getting married, having your own children, and then you die. But they have nothing to provide for a lifespan that is 80 or 100 years.

So I would not argue that religion will vanish completely, but I think only religions will survive that can adjust to this new lifespan that humans have and be able to accompany humans through these passages of life, and we will see religions "going out of business," if you will, that cannot adjust.

ALEX WOODSON: Would Catholicism be a religion that would go out of business? I know this might be a tough question for you, but that's a religion that has not been able to adjust in a lot of ways.

ALEXANDER GÖRLACH: The interesting thing—and I'm Catholic myself, culturally Catholic in the sense we just were talking about. The church already lost its people in the 1960s when the ban on contraceptives happened. People would already like—like in the generation my grandfather had eight siblings; in my mom's generation it's maybe two or three, so clearly they either had less sex or they used contraceptives. So which one is it?

But that is a tendency where I say you're right. Catholicism has had particular difficulties in adjusting.

And now you see, you have this global community of 1.2 or 1.3 billion people, and clearly in Europe the Catholic bishops are more eager to discuss the end of celibacy, for instance, whereas in other parts of the world it's not. So there is a lot of pressure on this worldwide community.

There is also a chance we see it breaking up, not only because of the things I mention but also because of the abuse scandal, which highlights a structural problem in many ways.

So yes, as a cultural Catholic I cannot imagine a world without Catholicism because basically all the rights, I enjoy them and grew up with them, but the church faces lots of difficulties. I am now 40. In another 40 years' time I'm not sure if the church I knew from childhood will still exist.

ALEX WOODSON: Just to wrap up on a positive note, a hopeful note, you've also written that you see Malaysia as a hopeful case for democracy. Why is that? We don't really get to talk about Malaysia too much here, so why Malaysia?

ALEXANDER GÖRLACH: I'm actually really not an expert, either, but I see the developments in the last year, and why I find this hopeful is it's a country with a majority of Muslims, and very often you hear the argument, especially in Western Europe—we are by the way not racial racists but cultural racists, which is not to say "These people are inferior" but say "This culture may not be able to adapt to whatever standards," which is stupid.

But you see democracy, human rights, is perceivable, believable in any cultural regard. When you put empathy in the middle and you say, "We as humans have to come to terms about us as humans," you end up with basically the European idea of human rights, but it's also accepted in all cultures that we know.

So to be a democrat doesn't mean you vouch for a presidential or a parliamentary system; it means you vouch for a constitutional system that places the human in the center and human rights, and these human rights come in civic and social rights as well because just having it written down and hung up on the wall doesn't help you, and that's actually something where I find Malaysia interesting, that they have come to terms with the past and with one-party rule, and now they try to implement higher standards of freedom of the press and whatnot.

I don't know where this is going to head, but for global discourse on the future of democracy it shows again that from Japan to Canada, regardless of what ethnicity and religion people may have, the idea of human rights and to enshrine them and live under the rule of law, that is super-aspirable still, and I don't see Fukuyama in retreat but on the march.

ALEX WOODSON: Great. This has been a great conversation. Thank you very much, Alex.

ALEXANDER GÖRLACH: Thanks for your time.

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