on April 13, 2003
I only became of Dr. Zakaria recently, when I read a piece he wrote called "The Arrogant Empire," a incisive piece on the hubristic and messianic foreign policy of the Bush Administration. After a little research I quickly discovered that Dr. Zakaria is some kind of foreign-policy wunderkind, who became an editor of the presitigious magazine Foreign Affairs at the age of twenty-eight. This book clearly demonstrates that his precipitious climb to the top of the intelletual heap of America is certainly well-deserved.
This book is a remarkable guide to the major challenges, both foreign and domestic, that face America in the twenty-first century. The thesis of this book is essentially that too much democratization and decentralization, two notions that are often hailed as universally good, can be disasterous. This argument is not new, as Dr. Zakaria readily admits. What is new is the contextualization of these problems to the modern world.
The author brilliantly analyzes both foreign and domestic policy through the prism of what he calls "Illiberal Democracy." The analysis is both lucid and cogent, and it is remarkable how much insight exists on every page. Dr. Zakaria is a polymath with prodigious analytical ability, and, as a result, both knowledge and sagacity ooze off the page.
The book ranges from topic to topic, yet still remains coherent. Dr. Zakaria ranges from topics such as Islamic Fundamentalism, to the decline of Congressional presitige on the national political stage, to the virtual disintigration of good governence in the state of California. Despite his reputation as a foreign policy maven, his analysis of domestic affairs is also brilliant:
"The deregulation of democracy has gone too far ... although [sic] none would dare speak ill of present-day democracy, most people instinctively sense a problem ... More intriguingly, in poll after poll, 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. All three have one thing in common: they are insulated from public pressures and operate undemocratically."
One aspect of this book that might grate on American sensibilities is the unabashedly proelite stance this book takes. It serves as almost a rallying cry to the elite to save the institutions that save the commoners from themselves. Although that description may be overexaggerated, undoubtedly this book laments for the halcyon days of a socially-responsible elite in America. However, in the end a lot of this analysis seems correct.
Despite this slight misgiving, this is a brilliant book that provides an intellectual framework for many of problems facing Americans in the twenty-first century, ranging from the scourge of mass terrorism to the cultural malaise here at home.
on April 4, 2003
America has been fortunate in the last fifty years to have had brilliant authors plotting both the possible and plausible courses of her foreign policy. There are few seminal works though - ones that somehow palpably alter the structures within which everything we consider must necessarily be examined. After Sir Winston's Churchill's warnings of an Iron Curtain descending across Europe, we were given the equally prophetic George F. Kennan who wrote his famous article in Foreign Affairs. As the decades clicked by and liberal democracy seemed to progress unchecked, Francis Fukuyama presented his "The End of History and the Last Man." Another decade sped by, and as globalization and interdependence became the focus for international theory academics, pundits, and practitioners alike, Samuel P. Huntington alerted the world to another problem in his "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order" (again first printed in Foreign Affairs). More recently we've been given Robert Kagan's "Of Paradise and Power," which, while it certainly puts the trans-Atlantic relationship in perspective for us, the world remains a bit hazy. This is especially true if one considers that neither Huntington nor Fukuyama has been unequivocally disproved; and hence, the world seems all the more complex.
Hence, Fareed Zakaria arrives on the doorstep of our minds, and like those before him, offers his book as a substitute for a crystal ball. Indeed, Dr. Zakaria has received favorable reviews by Huntington, which accurately note that this is a study that hasn't been articulated since Aristotle and Tocqueville. The major premise is this: unregulated democracy undermines liberty and the rule of law. There are a plethora of parallels to be drawn from this domestically (e.g. Benjamin Barber and Don Eberly), or internationally (e.g. Robert Kaplan, Robert Keegan, etc). "The Future of Freedom" will prove to be a profoundly troubling book for those who believe democracy flourishes anywhere it is planted or whatever culture it is grafted onto, and for those who believe democracy is synonymous with freedom. This is a very old argument, one that finds itself centered in political philosophy, and Zakaria's book is all the more important because of its timeliness, and because, even as it is an old argument, it is one that has never reconciled the individual with society, or freedom with duty.
This book will be important to the student especially - whether they read it or not, it will shape the discussions and debates they engage in. They would be better prepared by understanding it. Academics, though many verge on becoming synonymous with abstract and impractical philologasters, will likely also find it the counter-weight to their own, more liberal ideas. Policy makers should read it because I can only presume that it will inform closed-door discussions on whether illiberal democracy abroad is better than no democracy at all. Many books inform us as to where we have been, a few, quickly written texts tell us where we are in greater depth than do newspapers or magazines; however, Mr. Zakaria's text is one of the elite few that manages to show us where we might be going.
on April 7, 2003
Along with Tom Friedman, Zakaria is one of the country's top foreign affairs columnists. Unlike Friedman's "Longitudes and Attitudes," however, this book isn't just a rehash of old columns. It's a fascinating look at the past, present, and future of democracy, here in the States and all over the world. The book is essential reading, for example, for anybody interested in the Bush administration's attempt to "democratize" Iraq. Basically, Zakaria argues that although we take the concept of "liberal democracy" for granted, in fact the two components of it have not always gone together. "Constitutional liberalism" is responsible for a lot of the good things we like (rule of law, protection of human rights, etc.), but it hasn't always been associated with democracy. Democracy, meanwhile--rule by a popular majority--isn't always or necessarily connnected to liberalism. With these ideas in mind, the author covers an incredible amount of ground, both historically and geographically. And he writes amazingly well, so every page is not just filled with interesting information, but is also lively and fun. This is that rare kind of "big" book, in other words, that people not only talk about, but enjoy reading. If you liked Fukuyama, Huntington, Bernard Lewis, and stuff like that, you'll just love Zakaria...
on April 14, 2003
Fareed Zakaria dismantles the view that democracy, in and of itself, is a cure-all for mankind's social ills. In fact, he reserves some high praise for countries like Chile and Singapore, which liberalized their economies first and their political systems later.
Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman worked closely with Chile in liberalizing their economy in the seventies and eighties and Friedman claimed the experience changed his mind about the priority of political freedom in relation to economic liberty, saying he came away realizing that economic freedom was the foundation of all other liberties.
Zakaria is not hesitant to suggest that democracy isn't applicable to every culture, an idea that is highly controversial within the borders of the United States, but that's part of what makes this book so compelling, especially for those interested in the possible dynamics involved in our current attempt to "democratize" Iraq.
Even more controversial is Fareed Zakaria's critique of the current "descent of democracy" in America. In Zakaria's view, American democracy has morphed into "a simple-minded populism" that too often values style over substance.
A lot of readers approach such public policy analyses with trepidation, but Fareed Zakaria is incredibly readable! He makes what so many people regard as "policy wonk stuff," accessible to laymen and professionals alike.
The "The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad" is not just a riveting read, it's a book that couldn't be more timely.
on October 22, 2003
This is a fantastic book. If you like international affairs, you will love it. I cannot recommend this highly enough, especially for anyone interested in geopolitical affairs and foreign policy. The book is written with the touch of a fine journalist. It is at once a breeze to read and highly informative.
Zakaria fills the book with interesting research that makes the reader feel as if he or she were participating in an advanced course on globalization, except this class is all fun. There is none of the boring homework or dreary academic reading often associated with political science courses. With a Ph.D. from Harvard, Zakaria is a scholar, but he does not write like your typical academic. His style is easy going and clear, which makes his exceptionally interesting content easier to digest.
The content varies from theories about democratic development to the history of the Catholic Church and its role in the formation of individual liberties. You will learn about why oil-rich nations like Venezuela and Saudi Arabia face difficult paths on the road to democracy. You will also learn about how popular referendums in California may have created more problems than they have solved in that state.
Is it possible to give too much power to the people? Can an autocratic leader be good for a nation? Why do political liberties differ so much from Sinapore to Egypt to the UK?Zakaria explores these and other questions in this fascinating book. Read it and you will be wiser because of it.
on April 13, 2003
Anyone who is a frequent reader of Newsweek or Foreign Affairs will have already recognized the name of Fareed Zakaria, and has already worked their mind through his somewhat different views. That too was my first reaction when I read the New York Times Book Review of this book; and for the most part, I wasn't suprised.
Zakaria is an intelligent political analyst with a gift at subtely seducing you into believing (or accepting) his sometimes extreme opinions. In his latest book he topples probably his most extreme view- that democracy is not the 'golden shrine' of governmental order.
The American Dream since the end of the 20th century has now transformed itself into globalization, and the belief that democracy is the fundamental pillar to a successful society. Zakaria challenges this idea through a series of theories, each of which include one or two examples. He has a bland way of expressing these ideas, but the very fact that he is proposing them is gutsy, and for that the book is enjoyable to read (whether in the end you believe him or not.)
If you are one who blindly quotes de Tocqueville and company without considering the potential risks inherent in democracy, this should be the first book on your reading pile. Not only will it challenge you, but, ironically enough, may (like it did to me), only make my views on democracy more credible (I now have seen the most sensible arguements against democracy, and I feel prepared to rebuke whatever comes my way). I put this book down as millions of thoughts raced through my head. Zakaria has written a wonderful nonfiction book that will make you think, and finally, have a much more well informed opinion (whatever it may be) when you are finished.
on December 28, 2004
Zakaria's analysis of the distintion between "democracy" and "liberty" is well done. It's not new since the point was expressly made at least a couple of centuries ago. Nonetheless, he is quite good at showing by actual example how rule of the majority can have dire effects. The meaning of the word "democracy" has become quite ambiguous in common usage virtually everywhere around the world. Ambiguity in speaking often corresponds with ambiguity in thinking. If the book does no more than clarify the distinction between ends (individual liberty) and means (democratic process)it will be a boon.
The second observation is that liberal democracy, that is, democracy that serves and protects indivdual liberty, seems to require a gestation period of moderate authoritarian (as opposed to totalitarian) rule during which appropriate legal, economic and social institutions are developed. I'm predisposed to agree, if only because I had personally come to this conclusion quite a while before reading the book.
Having acomplished the above, Zakaria turns to what should be done. Here the book becomes weaker. In international policy, Zakaria seems to advise more tolerance for mild dictators. Lee Kuan Yew is the ideal, Pinochet, Franco a few others are acceptable [...]. Being a former colony of the British Empire (North America, India, Kenya, the Antipodes . . .) is certainly helpful. The problem is that on one hand the sun has set on the British Empire, the UN is useless,and the US tax payer unwilling while on the other hand there is only one Lee Kuan Yew and the others typically carry the un palatable air of Fascism upon them. In sum there is no really palatable/practical foriegn policy approach presented.
Regarding domestic affairs Zakaria's observation is that many "democratizing" schemes that were designed to make Congress more responsive to voters instead made them more responsive to lobbyists and "special interests". Examples are campain finance reform, open committee hearings, direct election of Senators. The argument is persuasive. At the very least these should give one pause before entertaining any suggestions about "fixing" the electoral college. Unfortuneatly, Zakaria's proposed solution is to delegate more authoity to non-elected bodies of experts, the Federal Reserve Board being the ideal. This sounds good but would be more convincing if the Federal Reserve's record was not so attributable to just one person. Greenspan won't live forever. Instead of a plan to un-do mistakes, Zakaria's prescription seems to embrace the idea of a technocrat elite. This strikes me as a dubious notion.
on July 15, 2004
Fareed Zakaria (born in India, Harvard PhD, Editor of Foreign Affairs, Editor of Newsweek's International Edition) examines Liberal Democracy in his recent book, The Future of Freedom. His main themes:
1. "Liberal Democracy" must be both Liberal and Democratic, Liberal in that it protects its citizens from abuse by the government and Democratic in the sense that it is responsible to its citizens.
2. "More Democratic" is not necessarily better than "Reasonably Democratic". Socrates was forced to drink hemlock by Athenian Democracy. The Reign of Terror in Revolutionary France sent thousands to the guillotine via very Democratic National Assembly. Hitler was democratically elected. None of these examples were Liberal.
3. Emerging/developing nations have demonstrated a propensity to form stable democratic governments only when their per capita GDP exceeds a threshold of $3000 - 6000. Instituting democracy at lower levels of per capita GDP has usually resulted in unstable governments that end up being illiberal, undemocratic and economically stagnant. I interpret this phenomenon as an example of Maslow's hierarchy of needs: People are unlikely to have the time, energy, or motivation to be active participants in a democratic process if their primary concerns are hunger, safety or other lower level needs.
4. Liberal Autocracies are not entirely bad. Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, and Chile are all examples of Liberal Autocracies that have or are evolving into Liberal Democracies.
5. In mature Liberal Democracies, more democracy may also be a bad thing. The US has become more democratic in many ways (direct election of senators, nominating primaries, open congressional hearings). One result is that elected officials are increasingly focused on winning their next election and less focused on the long term public good. A second result is that special interests, the narrower the better, have had increasing influence on public policy. This results from the phenomenon described by economist Mancur Olson in The logic of Collective Action: A small group with narrow interests will be more committed to achieving their goals at the expense of society in general than society in general will be in defeating them.
6. A possible solution for the current US problem is delegated democracy: Remove politics from key decisions by entrusting the formulation of policy to an appointed group of experts, analogous to the way Federal Reserve sets monetary policy. Democratic control is exercised over the appointed body of experts by their selection and confirmation by elected bodies.
"Democracy" has become so hallowed a concept that most people today (myself included) have accepted it as a universally desirable goal. In reading Dr Zakaria's book, I was reminded of a supplemental reading for a college history course: American Revolutionaries in the Making by Charles Sydnor. His thesis, as I remember it, is that much of the success of the early United States can be attributed to the Gentleman Farmers of Virginia: Washington, Jefferson, et al. These leaders created and practiced a very limited form of democracy but devoted their time, effort and considerable thought to making it work. Sydnor's book is still available. I recommend it as a supplementary reading to The Future of Freedom.
on January 6, 2004
"The Future of Freedom" is a difficult book to review, in part because the author hedges his bets. The book contains many fragments of wisdom, but it also conveys one Big Idea: the world suffers from excess democracy. In the words of the author, the book "is a call for self-control, for a restoration of balance between democracy and liberty. It is not an argument against democracy. But it is a claim that there can be such a thing as too much democracy-too much of an emphatically good thing" (p. 26). In the twentieth century, America fought to make the world safe for democracy. "As we enter the twenty-first century, our [America's] task is to make democracy safe for the world" (p. 256).
The author begins by explaining that democracy and liberty are not synonyms: it is possible to have one without the other. Democracy is universal suffrage and majority rule. Liberty is freedom of speech and assembly, the right to own property and other human rights. A majority of an electorate can deny rights to minorities, producing an 'illiberal democracy.' And it is possible to have liberty without democracy in a 'liberal autocracy'. In Western Europe it is a fact that liberty (freedom of speech, rule of law, and other human rights) predated democracy. For centuries, universal suffrage was not even a distant goal in liberal Europe, and it was common to deny voting rights to slaves, women, minority ethnic groups, illiterates, the indigent and those without property. A more recent example is Hong Kong, whose residents enjoyed liberty (rule of law) without voting rights, for the British Crown Colony was ruled by a Governor appointed in London.
Liberty trumps democracy, so liberal autocracy is preferred to illiberal democracy. But, how does one move from illiberal democracy to liberal government? Zakaria provides little guidance, other than recommending that government officials be appointed rather than elected to office. Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, writing in the 6 October 2003 issue of The New Republic, questions the wisdom of moving away from electoral democracy:
"There is ... a genuine loss of political freedom and restrictions of civil rights in even the best-performing authoritarian regimes, such as Singapore or pre-democratic South Korea; and, furthermore, there is no guarantee that the suppression of democracy would make, say, India more like Singapore than like Sudan or Afghanistan, or more like South Korea than like North Korea."
Zakaria seems to concur when he writes (p. 251) "In general dictators have not done better ... than democrats-far from it. Most dictators have ravaged their countries for personal gain. Scholars have asked whether democracy helps or hurts the economic growth of poor countries and, despite many surveys, have come to no conclusive answer." Immediately, however, Zakaria adds "But over the past fifty years almost every success story in the developing world has taken place under a liberal authoritarian regime. Whether in Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Chile, Indonesia, or even China, governments that were able to make shrewd choices for the long term were rewarded with strong economic growth and rising levels of literacy, life expectancy and education." He specifically admonishes India, which "for all its democratic glories ... has slipped further and further behind on almost every measure of human development".
Zakaria assumes there is a trade-off between liberty and democracy: more liberty can be obtained by sacrificing democracy. In reality, liberty and democracy most often go together. Democratic governments tend to be more liberal, with more respect for human rights, than authoritarian regimes. This is not an accident, for democracy without freedom of speech and freedom of assembly is not an 'illiberal democracy', it is a sham democracy where elections are meaningless.
Zakaria ends his book acknowledging "democracy, with all its flaws, represents the 'last best hope' for people around the world" (p. 256). This statement is not controversial. Controversial are his claims that there is excess democracy in the world and that the best hope for developing countries is a 'liberal autocracy' to prepare them for democracy.
Fareed Zakaria was born in India, educated at Yale and Harvard universities, and writes well, with exceptionally clear, lively prose. This book is an expanded version of his seminal Foreign Affairs essay "The Rise of Illiberal Democracy" (November/December 1997).
on April 17, 2003
I enjoyed this book, and I strongly suggest buying it. It is very well-written and organized. Zakaria essentially seems to suggest that highly-trained, intellectual elites are best suited to ruling some cultures in lieu of democracy. I personally believe that governments derive their authority by the will of their people, and that only through a democratic (he terms it as populist) structure can a government truly represent the will of the culture it governs. Zakaria would contend that a culture might prefer/choose NOT to have a democracy, but the hypocrisy arises in the fact that only through such a popular democratic decision could a democracy be tossed aside-as he points out NAZI Germany's election of the NAZI party and the subsequent demise of that nation's democracy. I would point out that the hypothesis of select few governing is exactly what happened there, and it is proof that democracy must be preserved despite its many shortcomings. Zakaria is very correct in pointing out that democracies do not always work, but that is more likely a reflection of the beaurocracy and litigation created to preserve the power and authority of the elite as well as a passive permissiveness of the electorate. That passive permissiveness is exactly what happened in the US in it's 2000 election when only 50% of the electorate chose to participate, and only 25% of those eligible to vote actually voted in the next President. Zakaria is completely correct in that a democracy's success is directly correlated to the participation of the people it governs. However, the arguments that appointed organizations are better suited to rule is greatly flawed and dangerous. I have yet to find any real organizations of elitist appointees-not democratically chosen-that has worked out well. In fact, every single dictatorship and beaurocratic-blocked ruling institution that I've examined has either become horrifically evil or stagnant, immobile, inflexible, and incapable of action (see also United Nations history of forceful intervention in post-WWII genocides).