Here is a summary of Fareed Zakaria's excellent book published in 2004, entitled, "The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad."
The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad
By Fareed Zakaria
W.W. Norton and Company
Thesis: Countries are often deciding how to best move along the path to democracy. And the United States is constantly formulating policies to deal with countries as they move – or slip – along that path. Unless countries build legitimate institutions that facilitate economic growth as the foundation for democracy, they will not be strong enough to make liberal democracy work…and will become illiberal democracies.
Russia and China
Russia and China are the two most important countries in the world that are not liberal democracies. China is reforming economics before politics, Russia did the reverse. China remains closed society run by the Communist Party, but is being steadily liberalized along several fronts, chiefly economic and legal. If China continues down its current path and continues to grow, further develops rule of law, builds a bourgeoisie, and then liberalizes its politics, it will have achieved an extraordinary transformation toward a genuine democracy.
Russia is a freer country than China with greater respect for human rights, press freedoms, even its economy is open to more competition and foreign investment. But if Russia continues down its path of slipping toward an elected autocracy with more and more of its freedoms secure in theory but violated in practice, with corruption embedded into the very system of politics and economics, it could well remain democratic and illiberal. Russia’s path violated 2 key lessons: emphasize genuine economic development and build effective political institutions. Moscow is failing on both counts. Russia’s fundamental problem: it’s a rich country struggling to modernize. The Soviet state did not collect tax revenues, instead relied almost entirely on revenues from natural resources itself…thus, never created rules and policies to facilitate economic growth. Yeltsin actively weakened political institutions: the legislature, the courts, regional governors were weak with an out-of-control presidency. Yeltsin did not found a political party. Without political parties, politics becomes a game for individuals, interest groups, and strongmen. This is a fair description of Russian democracy today. Putin strengthened Yeltsin’s legacy which is not liberal reform but rather a superpresidency – weakened regional governors, media, and Russia’s infamous oligarchs.
Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez
Hugo Chavez' new constitution increased the president’s term by one year, allowed him to succeed himself, eliminated one chamber of the legislature, reduced civilian control of the military, expanded government’s role in the economy, and allowed the assembly to fire judges. Tell-tale sign of democratic dysfunction: abundant natural resources, but economic mismanagement, political corruption, and institutional decay.
42 of 48 countries of sub-Saharan Africa have held multiparty elections, but correspondingly neglected the basic tenets of liberal governance. These tenets will prove hard to come by since most of Africa has not developed economically or constitutionally
Elections resulted in strong executives, weak legislatures and judiciaries, and few civil and economic liberties. Many illiberal democracies have quickly and firmly turned into dictatorships. Elections in these countries merely legitimize power grabs, undermine state authority, and produce regional and ethnic challenges to central rule.
Problems of Democracy
The tension between constitutional liberalism and democracy centers on the scope of governmental authority. Constitutional liberalism is about the limitation of power; democracy is about its accumulation and use. Over the past decade, elected governments claiming to represent the people have steadily encroached on the powers and rights of other elements in society, horizontally (ther branches of the national government) and vertically (regional/local authorities, private business, media). Leaders who think they need to speak for the people end up usurping peoples’ freedoms, and governments that usurp powers do not produce stable countries. Leaders of these authoritarian nations argue they need the authority to break down feudalism, bring order to chaotic societies…while there is some truth here, it confuses legitimate government with one that is all-powerful. A key test of a government’s legitimacy is tax collection because it requires not vast police forces but rather voluntary compliance with laws.
Russia has a basic inability to collect taxes. Putin successfully reasserted the Kremlin’s power against every competing authority – denied salaries to legislators and judges who refused to vote with Kremlin; reduced size of upper house of parliament. Historically, unchecked centralization has been the enemy of liberal democracy--France and Prussia where monarchy centralized power (both horizontally and vertically); and ended up as both illiberal and undemocratic.
Tyranny of the Majority
If the first source of abuse in a democratic system comes from elected autocrats, the second comes from the people themselves. The separation of power is eroded, human rights and undermined, long-standing traditions of tolerance and fairness are corrupted by forming new parties aligned by ethnic, religious, regional, or socioeconomic divides. Without a background in constitutional liberalism, the introduction of democracies in divided societies as actually fomented nationalism, ethnic conflict, even war. Elections require that politicians compete for people’s votes. In societies without strong traditions of multiethnic groups or assimilations, it is easiest to organize support along racial, ethnic, or religious lines
The “democratic peace” – the assertion that no 2 modern democracies have gone to war against each other (does the American Civil War count? Do nuclear weapons better explain the peace?). The “perpetual peace” is a mutual respect for the rights of each other’s citizens, a system of checks and balances assuring that no single leader can drag a country into war, and classical liberal economic policies (the most important is free trade) that create an interdependence that makes war costly and cooperation useful. In countries not grounded in constitutional liberalism, the rise of democracy often brings with it hypernationalism and war-mongering. When the political system is opened up, diverse groups with incompatible interests gain access to power and press their demands. Political and military leaders, who are often embattled remnants of the old authoritarian order, realize that to succeed they must rally the masses behind a national cause. The result is invariable aggressive rhetoric and politics, which often drag countries into confrontation and war
What is to be Done? Consider the example of Indonesia in 1998. At the time, it was not ready for democracy. Strike 1: the country was very reliant on natural resources; Strike 2: the nation was bereft of legitimate political institutions; and Strike 3: the nation had a low level of per capita income. All leading to abysmal results: GDP contracted 50%, wiping out a generation of economic progress and pushing 20 million people below the poverty line. Indonesia also witnessed the rise of Islamic fundamentalists who, in a country without much of a political language, speak of religion. Had the IMF and the US recognized the political instability these reforms would produce, they might have done a more incremental approach
Nowhere are these tough choices between order and instability, liberalism and democracy, and secularism and religious radicalism more stark than in the Middle East today. And nowhere will it be more important that the United States get it right, in theory and in practice.
Photo art by Jim Fingal