"Existential Insecurity" — Anti-Democratic Youth from Russia to the US

A recent article in National Geographic about young people in Russia who support (or at least are unwilling to openly oppose) Putin has been making the rounds. The author suggests that instability in the 90s and the failing Russian economy generally has led young people to obsess over obtaining the basic tenants of a stable life: job, house, and partner. They don’t see democracy as a way to get any of these things, but rather a source of anxiety and unhappiness. The National Geographic piece is in contrast to this one from The Economist from a few months ago, which seemed to suggest that a "boom in ‘enlightenment’ projects" among young Russians would eventually lead to political change. 

The Russian reportage is relevant because in Canada and the US, we’re more familiar/comfortable with the conception of young people as socially liberal and pro-democracy, but new research is suggesting this is wrong: “existential insecurity” is also taking a toll on our democratic values. A recent post on Kottke* alerted me to some new articles on liberal democracy, leading back to my old undergraduate standby, the Journal of Democracy. The Mounk/Foa study makes for dispiriting reading, especially because it suggests that unlike the Russian situation, where illiberal thinking is more prevalent in youth cohorts with limited options, poverty, and instability in the US and other Western democracies, it's the young and wealthy who are particularly likely to agree with illiberal sentiments (although the authors suggest this may be a return to the historical norm for elites). Generally, the study suggests young people in North American and Western Europe are more like to express support for political radicalism, less likely to support freedom of speech, and less likely to directly engage in political and civic activity, than previous cohorts. 


*One of my favorite sites on the web since… I joined the internet?

Amy Sanderson07/12/16