8 Kasım 2010 Pazartesi

“The Rise of Illiberal Democracy” by Fareed Zakaria (November 1997 Foreign Affairs)

Fareed Zakaria: Editor of Newsweek International and Columnist in Washington Post.

Zakaria begins his article by mentioning about rising nationalist and racist movements around the world. In his view, unfortunately democratically elected governments are routinely ignoring constitutional limits on their power and depriving their citizens’ basic rights and freedoms in many parts of the world. Although in statistics, today 118 of the world’s 193 countries are democratic; there is a growth in the number of “illiberal democracies. Half of world’s democracies are illiberal democracies.

Liberal democracy: Western democracies that have the qualities of not only free and fair elections but also many additional institutions and norms like the rule of law, separation of powers, protection of basic rights and liberties of speech, assembly, religion and property. Zakaria calls this as “constitutional liberalism” and differentiates it historically and theoretically from democracy.

Illiberal democracy: Although democracy is provided, there can be limits on the basic rights and freedoms of people. These regimes are illiberal democracies in Zakaria’s understanding. There are different variations of illiberal democracies. There are some modest offenders like Argentina contrary to near tyrannies like Kazakhstan and Belarus. There are also some countries between these two sides like Romania and Bangladesh.

Differences between democracy and constitutional liberalism

Democracy: It basically means the rule of the people. Democracy is realized by holding free and fair multiparty elections. Samuel Huntington believes that universal suffrage is not the sine qua non condition of democracy but it would increase the level of democracy in a country. He also adds that although democratically elected governments can be corrupt, shortsighted and irresponsible. This does not mean that they are not democratic. Democracy is only of the public virtues not the whole. Thus, we call a country democratic if free and fair multiparty elections are held. This understanding is parallel with the minimalist understanding of democracy. (Schumpeterian definition and Huntington's two turn over test etc.) The broader definition of democracy requires other qualities of liberal democracies such as the rule of law, other comprehensive social, political, economic and religious rights. Zakaria thinks that these qualities are caused by the constitutional liberalism rather than democracy. Democracy is about the accumulation of power. It takes its roots from French Revolution.

Constitutional Liberalism: Zakaria thinks it is not about the procedures for selecting government, but rather about government’s goals. It refers to the tradition, deep in Western history that seeks to protect an individual’s autonomy and dignity against coercion whatever the source is (whether the source is state, church or society). It has developed in Western Europe and USA. To secure these rights, it emphasizes checks on the power of each branch of government, equality under the law, impartial courts and the separation of church and state matters (secularism). The philosophy behind constitutional liberalism is natural rights theory which claims that human beings have some inviolable rights like the right to live, right to have property etc. John Locke, Adam Smith, Montesquieu, J.S. Mill, Isaiah Berlin are some philosophers contributed to this conception. Whereas democracy is about the accumulation of power, constitutional liberalism is about the limitation of power. It takes its roots from the Declaration of Independence.

Western Way versus Other Ways

Western Way: Zakaria thinks that historically democracy and constitutional liberalism developed together gradually. Although in the 19th century for example, the suffrage right percentage was very low and there were autocratic governments, there was still constitutional liberalism up to a degree.

Britain: (suffrage right percentage) 1830--> 2 %, 1867--> 7 %,

1880--> 40 %, 1940--> universal suffrage

But even in the 1830’s, there was a limited constitutional liberalism such as the rule of law, private property rights, increasing separation of powers, free speech etc. (it traces back to Magna Carta of 1215 and Glorious Revolution of 1688).

Western model is not only symbolized by plebiscite but in addition with the impartial judge. There are also historical factors that promote democracy in the Western world such as capitalism, strong bourgeoisie, high per capita income (Zakaria’s views are in the same line with modernization theory and scholars like Lipset).

In Zakaria’s idea, in the Western world, constitutional liberalism led to a better democracy day by day. However, democracy does not necessarily lead to constitutional democracies.

East-Asian countries: After WW II short period of democracy but soon they turn into autocratic regimes. However, from autocratic regimes now they have been transforming into democracies gradually. East-Asian countries’ path is similar to the Western path. Today’s East-Asian governments are like governments of the early 20th century Europe.

Other ways: In other countries, modernization did not emerge like in the west. Historical-structural differences: lack of a strong bourgeoisie, lack of mercantilist and colonist era, state led development. In addition, democracy has been introduced before constitutional liberalism. Although constitutional liberalism led to democracy, democracy did not lead to constitutional liberalism. Latin America, Africa, parts of Asia etc. failed states, semi-democracies and illiberal democracies. Usurpation is very common among Latin American governments and former Soviet Union countries. In these regimes, presidency is stronger. (Presidential democracy)

Peruà Alberto Fujimori (elected by popular votes)--> vertical and horizontal usurpation of power

Vertical usurpation (more common): limiting the power of regional and local authorities as well as private businesses and other non-governmental political actors.

Horizontal usurpation: limiting the power of other branches of the state, increasing the executive powerà decrees are frequently used by Carlos Menem in Argentina.

Michael Chege: In Africa, there is an overemphasis on multiparty elections which neglects basic tenets of liberal governance.

In the Middle-East, democracy leads to stronger Islamic, anti-secularist regimes.

Moreover, presidents in these countries sometimes had to make usurpations in order to preserve democracy and make structural reforms for modernization. (IMF policies in Latin American countries for instanceà Menem, Fujimori, Abdala Bucaram of Ecuador). However, Zakaria thinks that reforms would not be permanent if they are not supported and made in accordance with constitutional liberalism.

They can also choose the populist way and cease to make reforms that are against the will of people. They can use nationalist, religious discourse for votes.

Myron Weiner thinks that the success of liberal democracy’s chance in a country is based on constitutional past of this country. For instance, ex-British colonies’ democracies are more successful because British implanted constitutionalism, rule of law before although their colonial rule by nature was not democratic.

However, eastern European countries have been able to pass successfully from communism to liberal democracies.

Democratic Peace Theory: It takes its theoretical background from Immanuel Kant’s “perpetual peace” theory. In assumes that democratic countries would never make war. However, by democracy by Kant and Zakaria mean democracies backed up with constitutional liberalism.

Jack Snyder & Edward Mansfield: Democratizing countries go to war more often than stable autocracies and liberal democracies.


-Absence of free and fair elections is only the one flaw of authoritarian regimes.

-Similarly, “free and fair elections” is only one virtue of governance.

-We need to revive constitutionalism. (liberal constitutionalism)

-Constitutionalism would prevent the excessive accumulation of power and serve as a check-balance mechanism.

-We have made overemphasis on elections in transitional countries.

-We need to get over “Weimar Syndrome”. Constitutions are not simple paper works.

-We need not to support illiberal democracies. Reforms made by dictatorships would not be lasting.

-Instead of searching new lands to democratize, USA should try to improve democracies by promoting constitutional liberalism.

Ozan Örmeci

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