AP Comparative Government
In Fareed Zakaria’s The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad, Zakaria analyzes the variables needed for liberal democracy to exist and flourish. He weighs in on the advantages, as well as the disadvantages of a continued global focus (on democracy) as the building block of a more stable society, rather than liberty. The premise of his thesis is that the United States of America is moving towards an excessively democratic system where polls are having a perverse influence on a structure that was designed to be less about democracy and more about liberty. Liberty, in this instance, is about individual freedom and protection from abuse of authority by the state. Zakaria provides a multi-faceted look at both political history and theory. His broad sweep reaches back to the classical Greeks and Romans, through current politics in Russia, China, the Arab world, and even present day California.
The book’s opening chapter provides an overall critique of the enthusiastic post-Cold War commentaries on the emergence of a new democratic wave. Instead of the initial promises of peace dividends and a world order based on democratic peace, Zakaria points out the trend towards what he terms the dark side of this period of democratic transformation. While democratic in name, many of the political forces let loose, provide more chaos than freedom or democracy.
His purpose, it seems, is to educate the reader on the broad history of democratic theory, while calling for a new balance of thinking. Zakaria’s view is that democracy (as power-down populism, in its political, economic, and even cultural manifestations) has gone too far. He argues for a return to “self-control” along with balanced thinking with respect to the concepts of democracy and liberty and their practical applications for governing.
The book’s purpose, however, is to draw attention to the history of illiberal or constitutional liberalism; that is, political systems that balance individual liberty and freedom, in conjunction with “illiberal” representative governing institutions. In addition to free and fair elections, illiberal governing includes the rule of law and separation of powers, as well as the basic liberal freedoms of speech, religion, assembly, and property.
In short, Zakaria provides a civics lesson for his readers in the context of current events and the challenges for governing institutions in all corners of the globe. Zakaria is particularly blunt in his account of the government corruption in his native country of India. He notes the conflicts in “moderate” Arab states such as Egypt, where autocrats rule with heavy hands yet claim to offer a better model than the alternative. His chapter on the Islamic Exception notes the failures of Muslim theocratic governing institutions and movements, in light of the forces of economic and technological globalization.
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