The study of Liberal Democracies (August, 1989) was the third in a trilogy of PWPA Congresses designed to understand the world’s social systems. After the collapse of the Soviet Union—which co-chairman Edward Shils proclaimed at the conference one month before the Berlin Wall was torn down—democracy was championed as the future of all societies, and Fukuyama’s book, The End of History, was enjoying popularity. This congress was organized to help the world understand the strengths and weaknesses of liberal democratic societies and to caution that a workable democracy requires more than a free press and the right to vote.
Held in London, with more than 90 papers on 15 panels, the conference emphasized the value of the cultural and educational roots of a democracy. Without citizens capable of practicing responsible social life, democracy is not possible. Western democracies were the result of a long cultural history in which a responsible individual conscience, codes of civil behavior, mass education, and respect for human rights had developed.
Not only were many of these necessary institutions of democracy under stress or breaking down in the West, but they did not exist in other parts of the world to create a foundation for democratic development. The US state department did not miss the importance of this thesis. The first book to come from the conference, Civility and Citizenship, was translated into Arabic, Spanish, and Czech to help foster the understanding of the importance of cultural institutions for the development and maintenance of democratic societies.