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Customer Review

30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed bag, December 28, 2004
This review is from: The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad (Hardcover)
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.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 16, 2010 3:21:22 PM PDT
I agree that Zakaria relates to and 'believes' in a 'civic-minded' technocrat elite that is somewhat insulated from the short-term interests of elected politics. This may be a way to improve many of the current problems of grid-lock partisan politics and the pervasive influences of lobbies and special interests.
In the end I think that a strong pluralism best serves democracies: 1) affordable independent & secular public schools and colleges, 2) a strong military elite that understands that military action cannot be 'made by committee or consensus' but that the military must abide 'rule of law' and civilian 'chain of command' when it is involved in any other diplomatic or foreign missions, 3) a business / corporate elite which does not try to 'lobby' its way out of competition but embraces innovation and accepts its civic obligation to pay taxes rather than to 'create loopholes'.
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