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The Current State of Liberty

By David C. Innes on Friday, Mar 5 2010

As we reflect upon President Obama's State of the Union address, we should also cast an eye to Freedom House's annual Freedom in the World report. Freedom House began publishing these global assessments in 1973. In 1984, five years before the collapse of the Soviet empire, Samuel P. Huntington published his essay, "Will More Countries become Democratic?" (Political Science Quarterly, 99:2), and in 1993, The Third Wave: Democritization in the Late Twentieth Century. When the Berlin Wall was finally breached in 1989, and it was clear that the West had won the Cold War, Francis Fukuyama published his provocative essay, "The End of History?," in The National Interest. Twenty years later, things do not look as hopeful for liberty around the globe.

The Economist, in "Democracy's Decline: Crying for Freedom," tells us this about the Freedom House report:

Freedom House classifies countries as “free”, “partly free” or “not free” by a range of indicators that reflect its belief that political liberty and human rights are interlinked. As well as the fairness of their electoral systems, countries are assessed for things like the integrity of judges and the independence of trade unions. Among the latest findings are that authoritarian regimes are not just more numerous; they are more confident and influential.

This map gives stark expression to the advance of tyranny (yes, that is the opposite of freedom) over the last decade.

It is good that the people who prepared this report call themselves Freedom House, not Democracy House. It is a disgrace, given all that political theorists have to teach, that there has been such enthusiasm for "democracy" and multi-party elections, in isolation of the other pre-requisites for liberty, among state department policy makers, journalists, the Bush White House, and now the Obama administration. Ronald Reagan spoke about freedom, a more substantive and less ambiguous good.

With the rise of dictators (Chavez), kleptocrats (Putin), and Islamocrats by the ballot box, democracy has been earning a justifiably bad reputation.

Semi-free countries, uncertain which direction to take, seem less convinced that the liberal path is the way of the future. And in the West, opinion-makers are quicker to acknowledge democracy’s drawbacks—and the apparent fact that contested elections do more harm than good when other preconditions for a well-functioning system are absent. It is a sign of the times that a British reporter, Humphrey Hawksley, has written a book with the title: “Democracy Kills: What’s So Good About the Vote?”.

A good start in correcting the misunderstandings that lead to these tragically false hopes for democracy would be for American college and university political science departments to clear out their Marxists and nihilists, and establish core courses that teach the religious and philosophical roots of modern liberty, as well as the founding and classic texts of American liberty, such as The Federalist Papers and de Tocqueville's Democracy in America.