“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.