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Journal of Democracy 14.1 (2003) 100-113

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Liberty's Advances in a Troubled World

Adrian Karatnycky

[Freedom in the World]

This is the thirtieth anniversary of Freedom in the World, Freedom House's annual comparative survey of political rights and civil liberties. The survey initiated its comprehensive analysis of global trends in political rights and civil liberties in 1972, just before the start of the "third wave" of democratization, which is dated by many scholars to the collapse of the Portuguese dictatorship in 1974.

The evidence of the ebb and flow of democracy during this 30-year period indicates dramatic changes in the global political landscape. One of the most important trends has been the expansion of sovereign states, the count of which has grown from 150 in 1972 to 192 in 2002. As a result of the decomposition of such countries as the USSR, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia, along with the independence from colonial rule of numerous others, the world's roster of countries has expanded at a rate of just over one per year.

There has, meanwhile, been dramatic progress in the expansion of freedom and democratic governance. In 1972, there were 43 Free countries, with 38 Partly Free and 69 Not Free. Today, there are 89 rated Free, 56 Partly Free and 47 Not Free. The share of Free states has increased from 29 to 46 percent, while Not Free states have declined from 46 to 25 percent. This means that over the last 30 years, the number of Free countries has more than doubled, the number that are Partly Free has grown by 18, while the number that are Not Free has declined by 22—all of which cumulatively represents a momentous change in the political landscape of the world. [End Page 100]

These trends among our broad political-status categories are elaborated in our more nuanced numerical ratings. Freedom House provides quantitative expression to the state of political rights and civil liberties from country to country on a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 represents compliance with the highest standards and 7 represents their complete negation. According to this scale, the average rating has improved for political rights from 4.5 in 1972 to 3.4 in 2002, and for civil liberties from 4.2 in 1972 to 3.4 in 2002.

Measured relative to population, however, the gains have been more modest. In 1972, 1.3 billion people (35 percent of the world's population) lived in Free countries with democratic governments and broad compliance with human rights. Today the number living in Free countries has grown to 2.7 billion, almost 44 percent of the global population. At the same time, the number of people living in Not Free countries has gone from 1.8 billion to 2.2 billion. This represents a decline in the proportion of people living under Not Free systems from 47.3 percent in 1972 to 35 percent today. It is important to note that of the almost 2.2 billion people living in Not Free countries, almost 60 percent or 1.3 billion live in the People's Republic of China, whose rating over the past 30 years has edged up from a 1972 civil-liberties rating of 7 (the lowest possible) to 6, as a result of expansions in personal freedoms and free private discussion, along with the emergence of some significant space for private-sector economic activity.

The scale of political progress is especially dramatic in the Asia-Pacific region, Central and Eastern Europe, and Latin America, where the impact of the third wave of democratization has been most acute. At the same time, modest but significant progress toward political freedom has been registered in Africa. Meanwhile, however—despite some ferment and several important instances of democratic opening—countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and the former Soviet Union have been troublingly resistant to democratization, and human rights in these places have stagnated.

In 1972, the Americas and the Caribbean together had 13 Free countries, 9 Partly Free, and 4 Not Free. The changes...