If I was talking to you one hundred years ago in this place, and I was on the speaking circuit, I would be like most public speakers of the time in the late 1890s, very optimistic about the future of democracy, politics, the world. And that is because three words were not in general usage at the time. In fact, I don’t think these three words existed in any dictionary at the time. They are totalitarianism, fascism, and inflation. In other words, we may not even have names yet for the evils and the troubles that may confront us in the twenty-first century. And these three words basically came about because of the way populist politics chain-reacted with the industrial revolution to create the real cataclysms of the twentieth century.
Therefore, I think that the real question we all have to ask ourselves is, because, in the twentieth century, democratization throughout Europe and the culmination of the industrial revolution led indirectly to Nazism and to Fascism, how does democratization throughout the world now chain-react with the post-industrial revolution? What kind of new disease variance will that lead to? What kind of troubles will that lead to, what kind of opportunities? Because I am very worried about the future of populist politics, I don’t think democracy is necessarily good. I repeat that I don’t think democracy is necessarily good. I think democracy, like technology, is value neutral. It all depends on the circumstances in which it is applied. It is a magnifier of both good and evil. Hitler and Mussolini both came to power in democratic circumstances.
Colorado College’s 125th Anniversary Symposium, Cultures in the 21st Century: conflicts and Convergences Delivered at Colorado College on February 6, 1999 by Robert Kaplan