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The Rise of Illiberal Democracy

The Rise of Illiberal Democracy

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Published by Stryker_12
Here are some notes that neatly distill the ideas of Fareed Zakaria's 1997 Foreign Affairs article "The Rise of Illiberal Democracy." These issues are still pertinent today.
Here are some notes that neatly distill the ideas of Fareed Zakaria's 1997 Foreign Affairs article "The Rise of Illiberal Democracy." These issues are still pertinent today.

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Published by: Stryker_12 on Apr 16, 2009
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“The Rise of Illiberal Democracy” (late 1997)Fareed ZakariaIlliberal democracy—in which tyrannical or bigoted groups take power through democraticmeans and then ignore constitutional limits—is a growing problem.Liberal democracy entails free and fair elections, constitutional limits on government powers,separation of powers, and protection of personal liberties.Constitutional liberalism and democracy are two separate things that arose during the same time.While 118/193 countries are democratic, political abuses are commonplace in Third Worlddemocracies. Presidents often override legislatures and use military and police forces to settle problems.Political and civil liberties are separate. It is possible for a country to respect political liberties byallowing elections, but to disrespect civil liberties. Such is an illiberal democracy.There are signs that illiberal democracy is not just a transition phase between dictatorship andliberal democracy: Many countries seem to be settling into illiberal democracies of varyingdegrees just as the balance between capitalism and socialism comfortably varies across theworld.Democracy does not equate with good, effective government or with a set of civil and economicrights beyond perhaps free speech, assembly (needed for free and fair elections) and universalsuffrage. Sweden’s economic system curtails individual property rights and England has a statereligion.Constitutional liberalism refers to the goals of government and centers around protectingindividual rights and comforts.Liberal emphasizes the Greek concept of Liberty.Constitutional emphasizes the Roman concept of Rule of Law.While liberal democracy emerged in Western Europe, until the 20
century, most of that regionwas under liberal autocracy. During the 19
century, monarchs exercised most of the power,legislatures were very weak, and miniscule percentages of the populations could vote. Yet theyrespected individual rights (including property rights) and slowly evolved into democraticsystems. Universal suffrage completed the transformation by the 1940’s.The recent history of East Asia follows the same pattern. After WWII, some countries tried to jump the gun and form liberal democracies, but they failed and instead went to essentiallyautocratic systems (dictators, one-party states, pointless elections) with a fair degree of liberalismthat steadily increased with time. Economic prosperity in East Asia has now created wealth, amiddle class, and capitalism, which are the best preconditions for liberal democracy.While constitutional liberalism eventually leads to democracy, the opposite does not appear to betrue. During the same postwar period, Latin America, Central Asia and Africa embraceddemocracy, with negative effects on government respect for human rights. Multiparty electionshave proven no guarantee of good government. And many of these countries have democraticsystems in which most of the power is centralized with the Presidency.In Muslim countries, democracy has given Islamic fundamentalists a voice in government, whichhas proven destructive to whatever preexisting traditions of secularism and tolerance there mayhave been.In Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, and the Gulf States, democratic elections would result in illiberalgroups displacing the more liberal autocracies presently reigning.
Eastern Europe, however, has moved successfully to liberal democracy because they had longexisted in the liberalizing nondemocracy phase.The British empire was autocratically liberal and emphasized the rule of law, which left behindstrong traditions in many ex colonies. The French, by contrast, typically favored one indigenousgroup over others as an administrative class.Liberal nondemocracy is not always a bad thing. Hong Kong, which was ruled by the Britishuntil 1997 and which only allowed token elections, was excellently administered and providedextensive constitutional protections and a complex legal system to its citizens.Pure democracy can lead to a tyranny of the majority, which opposes liberalism’s constitutional protections.Democratically elected leaders in troubled countries like Peru and Belarus also have thetendency to aggregate power through extraconstitutional means, sometimes with or without thesupport of the people. They often claim that the fact that they were popularly chosen itself  justifies their actions, even if they only won a plurality of the popular vote.Salvador Allende was elected Chile’s president with only 36% of the vote.Power-hungry presidents tend to staff all high positions with cronies and to bypass the legislaturewhenever disagreements arise and instead appeal directly to the people.One of Latin America’s problems is that the countries are set up to have strong presidents andlegislatures divided by parties and coalitions.Zakaria believes that a legitimate government that deals with opposition will make slow yethonest progress while a centralized state will make fast progress yet run larger risks. A presidentwho usurps power in a popular move to fight corruption or to reform the economy may later refuse to surrender the power and use it for evil.The transition from liberal autocracy to liberal democracy occurred smoothly in England andSweden, where local governments and councils leftover from the Medieval age helpedaccommodate the growing demands of new politically active groups granted suffrage. But inFrance and Prussia, where monarchies had centralized power, the transition was poor. In theU.S., strong local governments helped to accommodate the suffrage expansions of the early 19
century (religious minorities, landless white men, later black men).Illiberal means are incompatible with liberal ends in the long run, except in the case of war.Liberal democracy grows out of government protection and enforcement of property rights and acapitalist economy.While dictatorship can hold diverse countries together, a sudden transition to democracy withoutliberal constitutional guarantees to all groups can lead to war between groups, as was observed inthe former Yugoslavia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Liberal democracies with strong traditions of tolerance can peacefully accommodate opposing groups, however.In countries without histories of tolerance, political parties based on ethnic, religious or raciallines usually form. Democratic elections can result in the most numerous group taking power andthen abusing their control of government to disenfranchise other groups. This scenario hasoccurred many times in Africa. Democracy may simply not be viable in areas with intensedemographic divisions and intolerance.The maxim that two democracies have never warred with each other invites some scrutiny:-Does the American Civil War count?-Might this be explained by MAD owing to nuclear weapons?-Democracy is relatively new. Might this situation just be a coincidence?-Democracies in fact fight more frequently and with greater intensity than other types of states.

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