The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad

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Liberty and Democracy. The two go hand in hand in popular thinking, fused by more than two hundred years of U.S. history. More democracy means more freedom. Or does it? At a time when democracy is transcendent, the one political system whose legitimacy is unquestioned, this deeply important book points out the tensions between democracy and freedom. It ranges widely through the past and present to remind us that we can have too much of a good thing. Take American democracy, in many peoples' minds the model for ...
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Liberty and Democracy. The two go hand in hand in popular thinking, fused by more than two hundred years of U.S. history. More democracy means more freedom. Or does it? At a time when democracy is transcendent, the one political system whose legitimacy is unquestioned, this deeply important book points out the tensions between democracy and freedom. It ranges widely through the past and present to remind us that we can have too much of a good thing. Take American democracy, in many peoples' minds the model for the rest of the world. Fareed Zakaria points out that the American form of democracy is one of the least democratic in use today. Members of the Supreme Court and the Federal Reserve -- institutions that fundamentally shape our lives -- are appointed, not elected. The Bill of Rights enumerates a set of privileges to which citizens are entitled no matter what the majority says. By restricting our democracy, we enhance our freedom. Nonetheless, we fall into the mistake of thinking, both at home and abroad, that the answer to our problems is always more democracy. But look at the post-Watergate reforms, which opened up politics. They brought into the halls of Congress not the voice of the people but the cries of special interests, well-organized minorities, and money. American government today is more democratic than ever before -- and also more dysfunctional. Abroad, the problem is that the spread of democracy has not produced a corresponding growth of liberty. We are seeing in many parts of the world, from Russia to Venezuela to the Palestinian Authority, a strange creature -- the elected autocrat. In the Arab world in particular we see societies trapped between repressive dictatorships and fanatical masses. Is there a way out? There is. Zakaria calls for a restoration of the balance between liberty and democracy and shows how liberal democracy has to be made effective and relevant for our times. Woodrow Wilson said the challenge of the twentieth century w
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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
The Future of Freedom, however, is no polemic against elections. Rather, it is a calm antidote to the fervency of those who want to force elections down the throat of every society, no matter what its particular circumstances and historical experience. As any foreign correspondent knows, there are all kinds and gradations of dictators. Saddam Hussein cannot be compared to Gen. Pervez Musharraf, whose coup in Pakistan in 1999 led to an attempt at "radical political, social, educational and economic reform" that no elected politician would have dared. Nor can Lee Kuan Yew, who wrought an economic miracle in Singapore, be compared to another dictator, Robert Mugabe, whose thuggery and incompetency have brought Zimbabwe to the brink of famine and bankruptcy. Mr. Zakaria, far from extolling dictatorship, usefully reminds us of a complicated world that cannot be depicted as a Manichean divide between democratic and authoritarian. — Robert D. Kaplan
The New York Times Sunday Book Review
In his brave and ambitious book, Fareed Zakaria has updated Tocqueville. The Future of Freedom is brave because its central conclusion — that liberty is threatened by an excess of democracy — is deeply unfashionable and easily misrepresented. — Niall Ferguson
The Washington Post
The Future of Freedom s a work of tremendous originality and insight. — Timothy Noah
Publishers Weekly
Democracy is not inherently good, Zakaria (From Wealth to Power) 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. Zakaria provides a much-needed intellectual framework for many current foreign policy dilemmas, arguing that the United States should support a liberalizing dictator like Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf, be wary of an elected "thug" like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and take care to remake Afghanistan and Iraq into societies that are not merely democratic but free. (Apr.) Forecast: Zakaria has a weekly platform as a Newsweek columnist and high visibility as an analyst for ABC News. Reviews are guaranteed, and the controversial nature of Zakaria's thesis should encourage debate in the media. Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Foreign Affairs
The U.S. State Department has a Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor whose purpose is to "promote democracy as a means to achieve security, stability, and prosperity for the entire world" and "identify and denounce regimes that deny their citizens the right to choose their leaders in elections that are free, fair, and transparent." The Bush administration has already promised to bring democracy to Iraq after Saddam Hussein is ousted. And Americans regularly condemn China for being undemocratic and praise Russia for its democratic advances. Democracy is the way Americans distinguish the good guys from the bad, those regimes worth supporting from those not, and it is the first remedy prescribed for any country whose practices are disliked. But Fareed Zakaria, editor and columnist at Newsweek International, argues in The Future of Freedom that many developing societies initially fare best under what he calls "liberal authoritarian regimes," and that "what we need in [American] politics today is not more democracy but less."

Zakaria's provocative and wide-ranging book is eminently worth reading. If not entirely persuasive when dealing with contemporary American politics, he is correct that Americans' obsession with electoral democracy has clouded their understanding of countries such as Russia, China, and South Korea and led at times to disastrous policy choices. This case has been made before, but never as simply and clearly. His book displays a kind of argumentation, grounded in history and political philosophy, of which there is precious little these days, particularly among opinion columnists.

Library Journal
Newsweek International's editor exposes the down side of democracy, i.e., the assumption that what's popular is right. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The problem with democracy is that it lets just about everyone have a say. Or so would go an inelegant rendition of Newsweek International editor Zakaria’s more sophisticated argument, which is akin to those of, say, Samuel Huntington and Francis Fukuyama in the Big Idea school of political criticism. Briefly, Zakaria holds that some of the features we take for granted in democracy, such as universal adult suffrage, are recent innovations that overlie, and now threaten to obscure, far more important aspects of "constitutional liberalism--the rule of law, private property rights, and . . . separated powers and free speech and assembly." These ideals, "best symbolized not by the mass plebiscite but the impartial judge," are the true hallmarks of democracy, but they are not the ones that Americans, at least, think of when that golden term is uttered, and not the ones that are called to mind when the talk turns to spreading one-man, one-vote democracy around the world, which is a peculiarly American project. ("Think of it this way," Zakaria intones, "if France had been the world’s leading power for the last century, would 18-year-olds wearing jeans in restaurants come up to you and say, ‘Hi, I’m John and I’ll be your waiter today’?") The rest of the world, and particularly the Arab and Asian quarters, is not much interested in this power-sharing ideal--which in any event, by Zakaria’s account, so often tends to lead to the tyranny of the majority and "the erosion of liberty, the manipulation of freedom, and the decay of a common life." Zakaria’s arguments are, of course, arguable, but they are interesting and provocative at the same time. His passing notes are more intriguing, culled fromstatistical tables and academic journal articles, on the material and political conditions required if a democracy of any kind is to endure: per-capita income and GDP above $6,000, an independent judiciary, an incorrupt central bank. A fruitful argument against the politics of "simple-minded populism," eminently worthy of consideration and debate.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641638718
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/19/2003
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.60 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Democratic Age 13
Chapter 1 A Brief History of Human Liberty 29
Chapter 2 The Twisted Path 59
Chapter 3 Illiberal Democracy 89
Chapter 4 The Islamic Exception 119
Chapter 5 Too Much of a Good Thing 161
Chapter 6 The Death of Authority 199
Conclusion: The Way Out 239
Notes 257
Acknowledgments 269
Index 271
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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2005

    Listen Up

    A refreshing, original, honest and intelligent work. Zakaria is no polemicist by far, and no fool, He outlines carefully the paramount importance of freedom and constitutional liberty, liberal in the classical 19th Century sense, over elections and illiberal democracy. The parallels drawn between cultural and political development and the destructive power of excess 'democratization' are excellent. Read and think - and worry.

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