These are hard times for liberal democracy. On 24 February 2022 an electoral autocracy, Russia, invaded an electoral democracy, Ukraine, and swore to wipe its sovereignty off the face of the earth—the consequences need no elaboration here. On the same day the V-Dem Institute published its annual review of the global state of democracy; it made grim reading: ‘The level of democracy enjoyed by the average global citizen is down to 1989 levels’—thirty years of democratic advance have been wiped out. ‘Dictatorships are on the rise and harbor 70% of the world population—5.4 billion people’; 26 per cent of the world’s population live in closed autocracies and ‘electoral autocracy [is] the most common regime type and harbors 44% of the world’s population—3.4 billion people’.

A fortnight later, I received for review two books that were published within weeks of one another, and that seemed to bookend my own attempts to understand both the war and the retreat of liberal democracy captured by the V-Dem report. The first was Francis Fukuyama’s Liberalism and Its Discontents; the second, Cambridge don Helen Thompson’s Disorder: Hard Times in the 21st Century.

Keywords - democracy, energy, power, narratives, influence, imagination, strategic communications, strategic communication

About the Author: Paul Bell is an independent strategic communications consultant who first focused on its application in conflict while a director of the South African commission overseeing the elections which brought Nelson Mandela to power. Since 2004 he has worked across the Middle East and North Africa, notably in Iraq following the US invasion. He now resides in Tbilisi, Georgia, where he continues to consult and write. The views expressed in this article are entirely those of the author.