The Antifragile Society
How open societies thrive on uncertainty
We are in the midst of a democratic recession. According to Freedom House’s latest report, for the 15th consecutive year, the number of democracies is declining. More worryingly, the pace of this change has accelerated to a record pace: in 2020, 73 countries became less democratic, while only 28 moved away from autocracy.
The liberal democratic model of governance, threatened by the rising influence of authoritarian regimes abroad and acute social challenges at home, is losing its appeal. In the United States, the January 6 storming of the Capitol, the raging coronavirus pandemic, an economic crisis, toxic culture wars — exacerbated by political polarization — have undermined the credibility of the American model of liberal democracy. Liberal democracies have long been assailed both from within and abroad, and it is essential to better understand and remind ourselves what makes them successful in order to reinforce open society’s underlying tenets while critically examining and dealing with its problems.
This essay provides a defense of liberal democracy — or the open society — on epistemological grounds by analyzing the idea of uncertainty. For the open society’s embrace of uncertainty is the reason behind its inherent dynamism, flexibility, resilience, long-term stability, and the ability to correct errors. While most contemporary liberal democracies fall short of the idea of the open society as espoused in this essay, in order to appreciate our democracy and seek to improve it, it is essential to return to the foundational ideas underlying the open society.
Uncertainty, the state of incomplete knowledge, is opposed to certainty, a predictable order. Both uncertainty and order are fundamental elements of nature. Uncertainty signifies all those things we neither know nor understand, that which is yet to be discovered and learned. Order reflects our traditions, institutions, accumulated stock of human experience and knowledge. Closed societies’ primary objective is order, stable, secure, and unchanging state of affairs, and the established belief system organizing society is in the position of dogma, for all criticism will lead to change and thus some dose of disorder.