Manuel Hinds’ Urgent Case for Democratic Principles

Manuel Hinds twice served as El Salvador’s minister of finance and is a consultant to private and public institutions, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.


 

In Defense of Liberal Democracy examines America’s current populist upheaval

Manuel Hinds twice served as El Salvador’s minister of finance and is a consultant to private and public institutions, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Merging expert historical, political, and economic analysis, his latest book, In Defense of Liberal Democracy, shows how our recent technological revolution has led to a crisis of social division. Hinds also describes how the traditions and institutions of liberal democracy healed previous national rifts.

What similarities do you see between America’s woes and the fall of Rome?

What is in danger is not the survival of the United States but that of American democracy. This happened in Rome about 400 years before the collapse of the Roman state. What started as class animosities ended up in military confrontations between factions. These confrontations destroyed the social cohesion that had united Rome into a formidable democratic power. Eventually, one leader, Caesar Augustus, wiped out his enemies and converted Rome into an autocracy, the regime that ruled Rome up to its demise in 476 A.D.

In comparing the present to the 1930’s, you observe that “a disorder in the human spirit—a disorder of values” has returned. What is the remedy?

The values become imbedded in institutions, which are mechanisms to channel relationships between people. When technological revolutions change the way we relate to each other, they disrupt institutions, not values. Yet, we think that what has been destroyed is values. The remedy is going back to basics and rebuild institutions to channel the new relationships on the basis of proven values—those of liberal democracy. 

How do you assess the Biden Administration’s efforts to heal America?

Beyond words, Biden is proposing a huge program of investment. I am afraid that the program is not focused enough on the citizens left behind in the transformations of the last few decades, one of the main sources of divisiveness. Second, the program seems to be excessively large. This may lead to two very serious problems: inflation may return, which would affect mainly the left behind, gravely complicating the original problem, and creating the need for additional taxes, which would reduce the economy’s ability to adjust to the technological revolution.

President James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution,” called democracy “the most vile form of government.” What do you think about the push to abolish the Electoral College?

James Madison and Alexander Hamilton noted in the Federalist Papers that democracy alone—the state ruled by the people—could result, if uncontrolled, in the worst of tyrannies: that of the majority over minorities. Precisely for this reason they created, among other institutions (like the Senate) the Electoral College, to protect the citizens of the scarcely populated states from the power of the most populated states. Abolishing the Electoral College, like abolishing the Senate, would affect the federal structure of the United States. 

How can we improve social cohesion when everyone carries their own reality-curating device? 

The fault is not in the reality-curating devices, but it is what people want to accomplish with them. Social media, which could be used to unify society, have become an instrument of separation, used not to promote understanding among different people but egotism, hatred, calumnies, and aggression. Social media are promoting this because people demand it. The solution requires a revival of the civic values that created the United States. If this is done, social media will follow. 

In contrasting the American and French Revolutions, how would you assess the role of religion?

Religions were largely responsible for the social interest that underlay the creation of the new American nation, linking this interest with the individual’s relationship with God. The French Revolution, on the contrary, was led by people who saw organized religion as an enemy of the people, an instrument of oppression. The American approach proved better in terms of creating a socially cohesive, democratic society.

What is the most successful liberal democracy in the Spanish-speaking world? What is the key to its success? 

Spain. The key to its success was the decision taken by the Spanish people, right after the death of the dictator Franco in 1975, to avoid the divisiveness that led them to a civil war that started in 1936. This decision materialized in a pact of political parties, supported by the king. The new social cohesion made it possible for Spain to join the European Union, a union that reinforced the democratic values in the Spanish population.

 

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