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The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad Paperback – October 17, 2007
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― Wall Street Journal
"Intensely provocative and valuable."
"In his brave and ambitious book, Fareed Zakaria has updated Tocqueville.... The range of Zakaria's knowledge is impressive.... It deserves a wide readership."
― New York Times Book Review
"With a command of history and contemporary politics on a global scale, Zakaria persuasively shows that democracy by itself is not the answer to peace and prosperity.... Essential reading for anyone worried about the promotion and preservation of liberty."
― Chicago Tribune
"Zakaria's provocative and wide-ranging book is eminently worth reading.... 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."
― Foreign Affairs
"Fareed Zakaria, one of the most brilliant young writers, has produced a fascinating and thought-provoking book on the impact of Western constitutional principles on the global order."
― Henry Kissinger
"In this incisive book, Fareed Zakaria asks searching questions and offers provocative answers. The Future of Freedom is an impressive contribution to our understanding of the crises of democracy that lie darkly ahead."
― Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
About the Author
- Publisher : W. W. Norton & Company; Revised edition (October 17, 2007)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 301 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0393331520
- ISBN-13 : 978-0393331523
- Item Weight : 8.3 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #302,651 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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That probably sounds strange to most Americans, which is why Zakaria wrote this book. We've been raised to believe that Democracy is unquestionably good and that more of it is always better. In reality, that's a pretty new attitude. At the time of this country's founding, Democracy was viewed very skeptically. The Founders knew that left unchecked, the majority could be an even worse tyrant than an individual because it would have the illusion of morality on its side. For that reason, our nation's government was set up as Republic, not a Democracy (think of the Pledge of Allegiance). A Republic allows the people to choose from pre-screened applicants for leadership roles and then delegates leadership to them.
Zakaria argues that the gradual breakdown of the protections against the Tyranny of the Majority as we've moved further and further towards democratization has had a vast negative effect. Politicians most focus increasingly on the short-term approval of voters in order to get re-elected and are kept from using their judgment and long-term outlook.
The book is filled with eye-opening insights and makes you aware of problems you may never have considered before. It is one of those books that has the power to change your outlook on major issues. That said, it isn't perfect. Zakaria needs to fully form his ideas just a little more. He obviously is a fan of the free market in most cases, but then says that too much of the free market can act in the same way as too much democratization (he uses the downfall as the Book of the Month Club as an a example of cultural diminution brought about by too much free market.) It's an interesting point, but the reader is left wondering where Zakaria thinks the free market is good, and where he thinks it should be cut back. He needs a clear rule to say, "Use more until "X", then stop." There are a couple cases where Zakaria seems to want to have his cake and eat it too, and that rarely works out.
None of that stops this book from being a very important read for modern Americans. I believe Zakaria is striking at the central issue that will determine whether America can retain (or maybe even reclaim) its current and former glory, or whether it will slip off into history. Zakaria doesn't sound an optimistic note, but at least he's done his part to sound the alarm. I applaud his efforts. Read this book and give it to your friends as well.
For a majority of the book, Zakaria explores countries around the world and their struggles with establishing a successful democracy. Some of the areas include Russia, China, the Middle East, India, Zambia and many others. With many examples, Zakaria presents not only the problems existing in these countries political system but also the difficulties of exploring different solutions. During one point in the book, Zakaria accurately predicts the results of the Egyptian and Syrian uprisings, saying that the majority of Middle Eastern countries would simply put Sharia law in place which would infringe on individual and groups rights. Ultimately, Zakaria finds that the specific form of government that should be sought for is a "Constitutional Liberal Democracy" which ensures individual rights to all (to prevent majority oppression), established institutions in both private and public sector to ensure balance of powers (Congress, Executive Branch, Judiciary, FED, AICPA, etc), and also a non-corrupt republic election system to ensure representation.
The second half of the books addresses the problems with our current system within America. Zakaria gives numerous examples how the 1970's marked a significant shift in our nations democratic system. Some of the main problems he addresses is special interest groups, lobbyists, and most importantly, the expansion of marketization and democratization throughout our entire societal and political system. Some of the examples used explore how various areas such as law, accounting, referendums in states, etc.
By the end of the book, Zakaria presents his solutions towards reforming our political system to make it functional again and less prone to enormous public pressure from special interest groups. A brief description of his solutions are allowing more closed meetings for congress, more independent institutions (Zakaria presents the idea of a FED like tax institution that would present tax policy to congress for an up or down vote, presenting favorable loopholes for corporate welfare and the rich), and entitlement reform.
Ultimately, whether you agree with Zakaria's solutions or not, you will be well educated in a variety of world political history of the 20th century and have a greater understanding of what makes a democracy great and how we can expand that greatness within our own country as well as abroad to other nations. For those who see in current events like the Bush Administration trying to "bring democracy to the Middle East" and want to understand more about the complexities of such a task for any society, I advise you read this book.
Top reviews from other countries
The author argues that countries which have one major resource are often less likely to become democratic than countries with few or none. This is because in resource poor countries like South Korea, the population have to develop diverse sources of income, leading to a vibrant economy and the emergence of a middle class, the traditional guardians of democracy. By contrast, oil states do not need a diverse economy because they get all the income they need from oil sales, therefore the economy never develops into a complex modern one, and nor does the democratic open society it generally helps to create.
Then comes a rather interesting point. The author argues that there is actually too much democracy, "too much of a good thing", and that far from being a good thing, it actually undermines freedom. He show cases how minority special interest groups in America can advance take advantage of democratic freedoms to force their will on a majority, or how referendums are frequently used to whip up populism. In Islamic countries, the author notes how far from advancing liberalism, democracy actually allows "illiberal democrats" to come to power like Hamas, often with an agenda that is worrying to women, gays and religious minorities.
The book is an excellent examination of the subject matter, but the author's conclusion is rather insulting. Namely, that it is a good thing that citizens are excluded from many aspects of decision making. He seems especially keen on the way the EU does this, even praises them for doing so. This is a rather disappointing end to the book. Nevertheless, it is well worth a read.
Zakaria dismantles the view that democracy, in and of itself, is a cure-all for mankind's social ills. In fact, he highly praises countries like Chile and Singapore, which liberalised their economies first and their political systems later. Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman, who worked closely with Chile in liberalising their economy in the seventies and eighties, claimed the experience changed his mind about the priority of political freedom in relation to economic liberty. He says that he came to realise that economic freedom was the foundation of all other liberties.
Zakaria's argument that "The deregulation of democracy has gone too far" is also supported by the fact that, 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. He argues convincingly that the future of democracy would be considerably strengthened if we embraced similar forms of delegation for the health service, the environment and taxation where a long-term perspective insulated from `short-term interest pressure groups is essential. As far back as 1789, James Maddison and other USA Federalists recognised that popular government would be plagued by one problem above all else - that of special interests. Madison said `By the delegation of Government to a group of citizens, elected by the rest, it would be possible to refine and enlarge the public views by passing them through a medium of a chosen body of citizens who's wisdom may discern the interests of their country and who's patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations" For Maddison delegation was a mechanism by which to temper narrow interests and short term perspectives, precisely the problem faced today!
The "The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad" is both an enthralling examination of the development of democracy and extraordinarily timely in today's troubled world.