Democracy in Retreat
Yale University Press
Ever since the end of the Cold War, there has been the assumption that, as nations develop economically, they will inevitably become more democratic.
According to Joshua Kurlantzick, a US journalist, fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations and regular contributor to these pages, recent events have seriously dented this aspiration.
Drawing on the research of various global politics think tanks, as well as from on-the-ground reporting from countries such as Thailand, Pakistan, the Philippines and Venezuela, the author presents a thought-provoking thesis into the regression of political freedoms across the world.
He argues that the reasons for this rollback are manifold.
First, are the experiences of the former Soviet and Eastern Bloc countries. Here, the rise of oligarchs from the rubble of Communism has dashed hopes that a more open electoral process would confer instant wealth on its citizens. This, the author says, has caused many to lose faith in democracy and now: "Populist and far-right parties with little commitment to democratic norms [have] gained steadily."
Second, argues Kurlantzick, is the concern that democracy brings chaos. He believes that the middle classes - supposedly the principal proponents of democratic reform - are fearful that if given the chance, the lower classes will elect populist leaders intent on misappropriating their wealth.
Hence, the middle classes are readily accepting autocratic regimes as a buffer against this threat to their well-being.
Third, are the effects of the 2008 financial crisis, which have convinced many that the Western Liberal economic system is all but obsolete.
So now, with this model apparently in decline, it's no surprise that many nations look eastwards towards the superpower in ascent. China, with its continued system of liberal economic policy combined with authoritarianism seems a far more appealing prospect.
Overall, Kurlantzick constructs a cogent argument that this worrying trend is a reality.
The author, however, seems to have been somewhat wrong-footed by events of the Arab Spring, which - despite the immense challenges facing these nations unshackled from the bonds of dictatorship - at least shows the decline is not universal.
Another sticking point is that the author is prone to repetition. At times the reader cannot help but think this whole discourse could have been made with equal validity if condensed into a news feature, rather than a 200-plus page book.
Nevertheless, Kurtlantzick hits his stride in the latter chapters of the work when discussing the consequences of the rollback of democracy.
As he states, unless this retreat is reversed, it will lead to increased repression for citizens, less press freedoms, rampant nationalism and, most disturbingly of all, a more dangerous world.
* Hugo Berger