09 March 2010

Book: The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad

A short notice for a well-known book: Fareed Zakaria, "The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad" (W.W. Norton & Co., 2003):


From the publisher's description (of an earlier edition): "Democracy has reshaped politics, economics, and culture around the world. This provocative book asks, can you have too much of a good thing? Today we judge the value of every idea, institution, and individual by one test: is it popular? Or, more practically, do the majority of those polled like it? This transformation has affected not just politics but also business, law, culture, and even religion. Every institution and profession in society must democratize or die. Democracy has gone from being a form of government to a way of life. Like any broad transformation, however, the trends that democracy unleashes are not uniformly benign. Democracy has its dark sides, yet to question it has been to provoke instant criticism that you are 'out of sync' with the times."

Review: "Democracy is not inherently good, Zakaria [...] tells us in his thought-provoking and timely second book. It works in some situations and not others, and needs strong limits to function properly. The editor of Newsweek International and former managing editor of Foreign Affairs takes us on a tour of democracy's deficiencies, beginning with the reminder that in 1933 Germans elected the Nazis. While most Western governments are both democratic and liberal – i.e., characterized by the rule of law, a separation of powers, and the protection of basic rights – the two don't necessarily go hand in hand. Zakaria praises countries like Singapore, Chile and Mexico for liberalizing their economies first and then their political systems, and compares them to other Third World countries 'that proclaimed themselves democracies immediately after their independence, while they were poor and unstable, [but] became dictatorships within a decade.' But Zakaria contends that something has also gone wrong with democracy in America, which has descended into 'a simple-minded populism that values popularity and openness.' The solution, Zakaria says, is more appointed bodies, like the World Trade Organization and the U.S. Supreme Court, which are effective precisely because they are insulated from political pressures." ("Publishers Weekly")

Excerpt: "Silenced by fears of being branded 'antidemocratic' we have no way to understand what might be troubling about the ever-increasing democratization of our lives. [...] What we need in politics today is not more democracy but less."

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