U.S. President Joe Biden’s recent Summit for Democracy was an important global event, but it slipped by almost unnoticed.

With democratic norms fraying from Southeast Asia to Central Europe, Biden was right to warn of “the sustained and alarming challenges to democracy and universal human rights.” But too few acknowledge that rising authoritarianism around the world, like climate change and the evolution of lethal viruses, can pose an existential risk to humanity.

Most people do not appreciate the extent to which civilizations depend on pillars of norms and conventions. Some of these have evolved organically over time, while others required deliberation and collective action. If one of the pillars buckles, a civilization could well collapse.