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Human Rights Quarterly 26.1 (2004) 211-215



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Fareed Zakaria, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad (NY: W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 2003), pp. 270 plus Index.

The relationship between democracy on the one hand, and wealth, market liberalism, and freedom on the other is too complicated to lend itself to a discernible pattern. Too often the distinction between democracy and rights-respecting regimes is overlooked in the debate over how best to protect human rights or to enhance human dignity. 1 The Future of Freedom significantly contributes to this debate and raises even further questions about the future of freedom in a globalizing world: can or should we spread democracy to other countries? Will the restriction of democracy result in furthering individuals' freedoms?

Pointing to the spread of illiberal democracies all over the world, Fareed Zakaria argues that the twentieth century was marked by two broad trends: the regulation of capitalism and the deregulation of democracy. Both experiments overreached. They were sensible solutions to the problems of the time, unregulated capitalism and oligarchy. 2 Today, public respect for politics and political system in every advanced society is at an-all-time low. When Americans are asked what public institutions they most respect, three bodies are always at the top of their list: the Supreme Court, the armed forces, and the Federal Reserve System. All three are appointed and not elected bodies. They are insulated from public pressure and operate undemocratically. By contrast, the US Congress--the most representative and reflective of political institutions--scores at the bottom of most surveys. In the United States, this lack of trust is attributable to a corrupt and flawed electoral process heavily influenced by campaign fund-raising and the candidate's image projection. "What we need in politics today," Zakaria continues, "is not more democracy but less." 3

Explaining the rise of "illiberal democracy" in non-Western societies, Zakaria raises a central question: "what if democracy produces an Islamic theocracy or something like it?" 4 Although Zakaria's prognostication is well-founded and worth pondering, it leaves unexplored several other reasons for the rise of radical Islam. To a considerable extent, political Islam is a backlash against repressive secular regimes, or as Zakaria himself rightly points out later in the book, it is primarily a function of failed political institutions. 5 There is no discussion of the paradoxes of US foreign policy and how US support for and commitment to authoritarian regimes in the Middle East has proven central to the political longevity of corrupt regimes and the rise of political Islam. How can the appeal of radical Islam be dampened? Is it prudent, for instance, to take an earnest interest in the Muslim world, to work to elevate their welfare and reduce their discontent, and to address the "root causes" of their resentment? 6

Zakaria argues that "the Palestinian [End Page 211] Authority's problem lies not in its democracy--which while deeply flawed is at least half-functioning--but in its constitutional liberalism, or lack thereof." 7 What is ignored in Zakaria's debate is that if it were not for the Israeli occupation, the Palestinians might have voted Yasser Arafat--the only elected leader of the twenty-two Arab countries--out of the office by now. The greater tragedy of the Palestinians is not that liberty and democracy are at odds under the Palestinian Authority, but that Palestinians are deprived of a basic right: the sovereign right of a people with a state of their own.

Zakaria cogently argues that an abrupt democratization could lead to the emergence of more dysfunctional and illiberal democracies. The democratic transition of the brief post-Cold War era bears this out. At one point in the book, Zakaria praises Suharto, who had achieved order, secularism, and economic liberalization--an impressive combination in the Third World, albeit as part of a flawed regime. Zakaria writes: "Gradual political reform rather than wholesale revolution would have been preferable, certainly for the average Indonesian, who one assumes was the intended beneficiary of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1085-794X
Print ISSN
0275-0392
Pages
pp. 211-215
Launched on MUSE
2004-02-06
Open Access
No
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