Less than a quarter-century ago, democracy appeared to be confined, with a few exceptions, to North America and Western Europe. These nations had advanced industrial economies, sizable middle classes, and high literacy rates-factors that many political scientists regarded as prerequisites for successful democracy. They were home not only to free and competitive multiparty elections but also to the rule of law and the protection of individual liberties. In short, they were what had come to be called "liberal democracies."
In the rest of the world, by contrast, most countries were neither liberal nor democratic. They were ruled by a variety of dictatorships-military, single-party, revolutionary, Marxist-Leninist-that rejected free, multiparty elections (in practice, if not always in principle). By the early 1990s, however, this situation had changed dramatically, as an astonishing number of autocratic regimes around the world fell from power. They were generally succeeded by regimes that at least aspired to be democratic, giving rise to the phenomenon that Samuel P. Huntington termed the "third wave" of democratization. Today, well over a hundred countries, in every continent in the world, can plausibly claim to have freely elected governments.
Outside of Africa, few of these aspiring new democracies have suffered outright reversions to authoritarianism. But many, even among those that hold unambiguously free and fair elections, fall short of providing the protection of individual liberties and adherence to the rule of law commonly found in the long-established democracies. As Larry Diamond has put it, many of the new regimes are "electoral democracies" but not "liberal democracies." Citing Diamond's distinction, Huntington has argued that the introduction of elections in non-Western societies may often lead to victory by antiliberal forces. And Fareed Zakaria has contended that the promotion of elections around the world has been responsible for "the rise of illiberal democracy"-that is, of freely elected governments that fail to safeguard basic liberties. "Constitutional liberalism," Zakaria argues, "is theoretically different and historically distinct from democracy . . . . Today the two strands of liberal democracy, interwoven in
- Full website and iPad access
- Magazine issues
- New! Books from the Foreign Affairs Anthology Series