Democracy And Freedom Essay Free


As the year 2001 drew to a close, the international community confronted a widespread terrorist threat emanating from a fanatical global revolutionary movement that claimed origins in an extremist interpretation of Islam. While one terror base, the Taliban in Afghanistan, was in the process of being eliminated, the international community faced a troubling future in which dispersed political extremists and  movements seek to export terror to stable states and to topple politically brittle or weak Middle Eastern states in their effort to foment an international Islamist revolution.

While turmoil beset parts of the Islamic world and threatened the tranquility of the advanced democracies, the year saw modest trends in the further consolidation of young democracies and the deepening of democratic practices in a wide variety of settings. Democracy and market systems appeared resilient in the face of terrorist and extremist challenges. They remained so because of the strength they and their leaders derive from the sense of ownership citizens have in their governments.

At the same time, Islamist terrorism and the popularity of extremist ideas among segments of the international Muslim community posed a serious threat to the spread of political freedom in the Islamic world. This year's survey shows a dramatic gap between the levels of freedom and democracy in the Islamic countries--particularly in their  Arabic core--and in the rest of the world.


As 2001 drew to a close, the world reached a new watermark in the number and proportion of democratically elected governments, with The Gambia reentering the ranks of electoral democracies. In all, 121 of the world's 192 governments (63 percent) are electoral democracies. While some electoral democracies have poor human rights records, such democracies afford considerable space for political opposition movements, provide opposition parties and viewpoints access to the media, and meet the minimum standard of a relatively fair vote count in conditions of ballot secrecy.

In all, according to this year's Freedom in the World survey, there are 85 "Free" countries, in which basic political rights and civil liberties are recognized (representing 2.50 billion people and 40.79 percent of the global population). There are 59 "Partly Free" countries, in which there is limited respect for political rights and civil liberties.  These states also suffer from an environment of corruption, weak rule of law, ethnic and religious strife, and often a setting in which a single political party enjoys dominance despite the facade of limited  pluralism. Approximately 23.86 percent of the world's population, 1.46 billion persons, lives in such Partly Free societies. There are 2.17 billion people (35.35 percent of the global population) living in 48 "Not Free" countries, where basic political rights are absent and basic civil liberties are widely and systematically denied.


The year's trends yielded mixed results, with 16 countries registering significant gains in freedom and 17 registering setbacks for political rights and civil liberties.

Among countries making important gains in freedom were Peru, which reentered the ranks of Free countries after open democratic elections that saw the victory of Alejandro Toledo. Peru's democratic gains came after a period of terrorism, instability, and corrupt authoritarian rule by former President Alberto Fujimori. The Gambia's status improved from Not Free to Partly Free after the government lifted a controversial decree barring opponents from political activity in advance of nationwide elections.  Mauritania registered gains and saw its status improve from Not Free to Partly Free as a consequence of local and national parliamentary elections. Additional advances for freedom were registered in Albania, Bahrain, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Cameroon, Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Kinshasa), Cote d'Ivoire, Croatia, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Fiji, and Yugoslavia.

Among 17 states suffering significant setbacks to freedom was Trinidad and Tobago, which declined from Free to Partly Free as the country's parliamentary system broke down amid a disputed national election and growing corruption. Argentina slipped from Free to Partly Free due to the resignation of an elected president, growing evidence of a lack of professionalism in the judiciary, and significant increases in public insecurity, including common crime, police misconduct, and organized civil disobedience arising from a mounting economic crisis.  Liberia saw its status decline to Not Free as a result of persistent repression of political opponents. Under the authoritarian leadership of President Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe entered the ranks of Not Free countries amid widespread violence against the opposition, civil society, and the independent media and as the government acted to reduce the independence of the judiciary. Additional substantial declines in freedom occurred in Belize, Benin, the Central African Republic, Egypt, Eritrea, Haiti, Jamaica, Jordan, Macedonia, Malawi, Morocco, Nigeria, and Yemen.

At the end of 2001, there were 121 electoral democracies among the world's 192 states (63 percent). The 1987-88 survey had found that just 66 of 164 countries (40 percent) were electoral democracies. In short, the number of new democratically elected governments has increased by 55 over the space of 14 years, an average of nearly 4 per year. This gradual, sustained expansion of electoral democracy has helped to create a framework for improvements in basic human rights worldwide.


Democracy and freedom are the dominant trends in Western and East-Central Europe, in the Americas, and increasingly in the Asia-Pacific region.  In the former Soviet Union, the picture remains mixed, with progress toward freedom stalled and a number of countries consolidating into dictatorships.  In Africa, too, Free societies and electoral democracies remain a distinct minority.  There are no true democracies or Free countries within the Arab world, and there is a low proportion of Free and democratic Muslim states.

Of the 53 countries in Africa, 9 are Free (17 percent), 25 are Partly Free (47 percent), and 19 are Not Free (36 percent). Only 20 African countries (38 percent) are electoral democracies. Generally, the region continued to be the most dynamic part of the world, but there was little evidence of forward momentum toward greater openness. This year, 7 African states registered gains for freedom, while 9 suffered significant setbacks.

In Asia, 18 of the region's 39 countries are Free (46 percent), 10 are Partly Free (26 percent), and 11 are Not Free (28 percent). Despite the looming presence of Communist China and the rhetoric of "Asian values," 24 (62 percent) of the region's polities are electoral democracies.

In East-Central Europe and the former U.S.S.R., there is now evidence of a deepening chasm. In Central Europe and parts of Eastern Europe, including the Baltic states, democracy and freedom prevail; in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), however, progress toward the emergence of open societies has stalled or failed. Overall, 19 of the 27 post-Communist countries of East-Central Europe and the CIS are electoral democracies (70 percent). In addition, 11 of the region's states are Free (41 percent), 10 are Partly Free (37 percent), and 6 are Not Free (22 percent). Of the 12 non-Baltic former Soviet republics, 6 countries are Partly Free, 6 are Not Free, and none are Free. Stagnation and reversals for freedom characterized virtually all the non-Baltic Soviet states.

Western Europe remains the preserve of Free countries and democracies, with all 24 states both free and democratic.

Among the 35 countries in the Americas, 32 are electoral democracies (91 percent). In addition, 22 states are rated as Free (63 percent), 11 are Partly Free (31 percent), and 2--Cuba and Haiti--are Not Free (6 percent).

In the 14 Middle Eastern countries (excluding those in North Africa), the roots of democracy and freedom are weakest. In this region there is only one Free country, Israel (7 percent); there are three Partly Free states--Jordan, Kuwait, and Turkey (21 percent)--and ten countries that are Not Free (71 percent). Israel and Turkey are the region's only electoral democracies (14 percent).


Since the early 1970s, when the third major historical wave of democratization began, the Islamic world--and, in particular, its Arabic core--has seen little significant evidence of improvements in political openness, respect for human rights, and transparency. Indeed, the democracy gap between the Islamic world and the rest of the world is dramatic. Of the 192 countries in the world today, 121 are electoral democracies; but in countries with an Islamic majority, only 11 of 47 have democratically elected governments, or 23 percent. In the non-Islamic world, there are 110 electoral democracies out of 145 states, over 75 percent. This means that a non-Islamic state is nearly three times more likely to be democratic than an Islamic state. There are no electoral democracies among the 16 Arabic states of the Middle East and North Africa. 

While presidential and parliamentary democracies and constitutional monarchies are the norm in almost four out of five of the world's non-Islamic states, in countries with a majority Islamic population there are ten presidential-parliamentary democracies and one parliamentary democracy. At the same time, within the Islamic world there are nine countries with authoritarian presidencies, there are seven with dominant party states in which opposition parties are nominal, there are six with presidential-parliamentary systems with features of authoritarian rule, there are nine traditional monarchies, there are three one-party states, there is one military-ruled state, and until November there was one fundamentalist theocracy, Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban.


There is an even more dramatic freedom gap between majority Islamic countries and the rest of the world. In countries in which there is an Islamic majority, there is just 1 Free country, Mali, while 18 are rated Partly Free and 28 are Not Free.  By contrast, among the non-Islamic countries, 84 are Free, 41 are Partly Free, and 20 are Not Free.

Twenty years ago, there was also one Free country among states with a majority Islamic population, while there were 20 that were Partly Free and 18 Not Free.  By contrast, at the close of 1981, the rest of the world registered 50 Free countries (the majority of them from Europe and North America), 31 Partly Free countries, and 42 Not Free countries.

This means that over a 20-year period--which also saw the emergence of 30 new states--the number of Free countries in the non-Islamic world increased by 34, the number of Partly Free states grew by 10, while the number of Not Free countries declined by 22. Over this 20-year time frame, diametrically opposite trends were taking place in the Islamic world. The number of Free countries remained stuck at 1 and the number of Partly Free countries declined by 2, while the number of Not Free countries increased by 10. In other words, while the countries of Latin America, Africa, East-Central Europe, and South and East Asia experienced significant gains for democracy and freedom over the last 20 years, the countries of the Islamic world experienced an equally significant increase in repressive regimes.

These opposite trends have contributed to a growing gap between the Islamic world and the rest of humanity. Indeed, while some posit a clash of civilizations, such a clash is not between the Islamic world and the Judeo-Christian civilization; rather, it is on the one hand between the Islamic world and its Middle Eastern core, and on the other between the non-democratic Islamic world (in particular its repressive Arabic core) and the rest of the world.

This dichotomy persists in every region in which Islam has a presence. A look at the political map of Africa is revealing. It shows, for example, that among the majority Islamic countries of the African continent, only 1 of the 20 countries is rated Free, 10 are Partly Free, and 9 are Not Free. By contrast, among the non-Islamic countries of Africa, 8 are Free, 14 are Partly Free, and 11 are Not Free. Similarly, 7 of the 20 Muslim African countries are democracies, while 13 of 33 non-Muslim African states have democratically elected governments.

In the non-Islamic countries of East Central Europe and the former USSR, there are 11 Free countries, 9 Partly Free countries, and 1 Not Free country, while among the majority Islamic states in this category, 1 country is rated Partly Free and 5 are Not Free.

A similar dichotomy is revealed in Asia, where there are 18 Free, 7 Partly Free, and 7 Not Free countries among the non-Islamic countries, while among the Asian countries with a majority Islamic population, none is rated Free, 3 are Partly Free, and 4 are Not Free.

The weakness of democratic culture and free market beliefs in many of the majority Islamic states, particularly in the Arabic states, as well as the weak democratic discourse within a large part of Islamic civilization contributes to political conflict in multi-denominational settings.  In countries like Lebanon, large portions of the Islamic population have been drawn to the appeal and patronage of antidemocratic movements. In Nigeria, a clash has erupted between fundamentalist Islamic forces seeking to impose their version of sharia (Islamic prescriptions related to lifestyle and law) in states where Muslims predominate and pursue policies that violate basic rights, in particular the rights of religious minorities and women. In the Philippines, Islamist ideas have raised tensions on the island of Mindanao and posed a serious threat to security. Similarly, Islamism has provoked a war of genocide against the predominantly Christian and animist African population of southern Sudan. In 2001, a new insurgency by the Islamic Albanian minority contributed to the deterioration of civil liberties in the democratic state of Macedonia.  In Indonesia, Islamic fundamentalism has in recent years fed attacks on predominantly Christian Chinese minorities and threatened the country's democratic transition.

While a number of the more repressive Arabic states--Egypt and Saudi Arabia, most notably--have successfully suppressed Islamist political movements, they have at the same time tolerated the spread of radical fundamentalist ideas to other countries. Moreover, such states have permitted--some say encouraged--the proliferation of anti-Western and anti-U.S. views within their media and by Islamic clerics.

In other states, the Islamist threat has proved real. In Algeria, Islamists nearly captured state power, and, when they were thwarted in a military coup, proceeded to launch a decade-long war of terror that has claimed more than 100,000 lives. In Kuwait, which has seen a limited devolution of power to an elected parliament, fundamentalists have captured substantial numbers of seats and are seeking to impose their version of sharia on Kuwaiti society.

The significant threat posed by Islamism in many predominantly Muslim societies and the absence of democratic practices in many Islamic majority states should not obscure the considerable democratic ferment in the Islamic world. Democratic polities are now found in Albania, Bangladesh, Djibouti, The Gambia, Indonesia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Turkey.

Notably, none of these Islamic democracies has a majority Arab population, and all are found in the Islamic periphery in South and East Asia, on the border of Europe and the Caucasus, and in Northern and Central Africa. Out of the non-Arabic Islamic countries, 11 of 30 countries are electoral democracies, while none of the 17 majority Arabic countries has a democratically elected government. Among the majority Arabic countries, 1, Tunisia,  has an authoritarian presidential system; two--Libya and Iraq--are one-party dictatorships; 1, Lebanon, is a presidential-parliamentary system under the foreign influence of Syria; and 4 are states with a dominant ruling party that faces a thwarted and severely circumscribed political opposition (Algeria, Egypt, Syria, and Yemen). The 9 remaining states are monarchies.

Still, recent history shows that Islam is not inherently incompatible with democratic values. Indeed, if we take into account the large Muslim populations of such countries as India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Turkey, and the Islamic populations of North America and Western Europe, the majority of the world's Muslims live under democratically constituted governments.

As significantly, over the last three years, democracy has been restored or has emerged in Albania, Indonesia, and Nigeria. In Islamic Iran, there has been considerable democratic ferment, and it is clear the public is eager to supplant the political dominance of the country's fundamentalist clergy. The Islamic plurality in Bosnia has respected basic democratic norms, and in majority Islamic Kosovo, local elections have confirmed the electoral victory of moderate, pro-democratic secular forces.


There are of course, many factors that have contributed to the weakness of democracy and freedom in large parts of the Muslim world. Islam has spread to many of the less developed parts of the world, where education and prosperity have also lagged behind.

Another factor contributing to the democracy gap has been the cultural burden imposed by an interpretation of Islamic faith and tradition that relegates women to a second-class status as worshippers and members of society. The severe limitations placed on women in such countries as Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf states are grave impediments to their participation in civic life.

A third factor has been the Islamic tradition that merges religion and state. As Bernard Lewis has written, "In Muslim theory, church and state are not separate or separable institutions....Such familiar pairs of words as lay and ecclesiastical, sacred and profane, spiritual and temporal, and the like have no equivalent in classical Arabic or in other Islamic languages, since the dichotomy they express, deeply rooted in Christendom, was unknown in Islam until comparatively modern times."1This is not to say that the distinction does not exist in practice. Indeed, of the 47 Islamic polities, only 2, Afghanistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran, united clerical leadership with the political leadership of the state.  

Another factor has been the corrosive power of oil and natural gas. The income derived from these commodities has conferred vast riches on a narrow ruling elite. For decades, such revenue has also meant that many Islamic societies have not needed to focus on building the types of viable entrepreneurial and wealth-creating economic systems that less resource rich countries have employed to build prosperous societies. Instead, they used oil revenues to provide large subventions to their populations, creating a unique form of public welfare that reinforces idleness and suppresses initiative. With oil dividends declining, many Arabic and other oil-rich Islamic states will need to confront harsh choices and take measures that empower individual initiative, build self-sustaining middle classes, and so create a basis for democratic civic life.

Finally, there is the historic legacy. Many of the Arabic states remain narrowly held monarchies, with few features of broader consultation and democratization. The ostentatious economic oligarchies that the monarchies have spawned have created significant resentment within these states and contributed to the appeal of fundamentalist movements.

Many of the remaining Arabic states-- Egypt, Iraq, Libya, and Syria--are the heirs to the statist authoritarianism of Arab socialist and secular Ba'athist regimes, whose worldview and systems of mass mobilization derive from such totalitarian models as fascism and communism. These states have suppressed democratic and fundamentalist Islamist movements alike, and they have not undergone the political reforms that occurred in most of the Communist world.

While it is clear that all these factors have contributed to a singular lack of progress toward democracy and civic activism in most of the Arab world, it is also worth noting that important, though halting and inconsistent, inroads toward democratic reform have been made in several Arabic countries. In Algeria, despite the disruptive influence of Islamist terror, the public has voted in large numbers--albeit in flawed elections--to signal its disapproval of terror and violence as a path to power.

In Jordan, the monarch has moved prudently to devolve some power to local government and has established a parliament with limited powers. While there is some space for political parties, civic groups, and unions, the last year saw chaotic protests by radical opponents of normalization of relations with Israel that resulted in a temporary ban on demonstrations.

Morocco, too, has seen limited relaxation of political restrictions; the king declared in December 2000 his commitment to the establishment of a constitutional democratic monarchy.

In Bahrain, a national referendum, in which men and women voted, overwhelmingly ratified wide-ranging political reforms that may move the country toward constitutional monarchy. These reforms have been accompanied by the return of opposition figures from exile, the rehiring of those dismissed from state jobs for political reasons, and the creation of a commission to investigate allegations of torture and past human rights violations.

Yemen's limited progress toward democratic reform has been set back by President Ali Abdullah Saleh's effort to increase executive power and extend his term of office, while marginalizing opposition parties.

At the same time, Kuwait's effort to devolve power has come amid a surge of support for fundamentalists, who seek to reduce the already limited rights of women.

In many settings, substantial movement toward democratic practice is inhibited by the presence of fanatical Islamist political forces, which seek to use political space and the ballot to attain power in order to establish authoritarian rule.

At the same time, the fear of Islamism has been used by authoritarian governments in Azerbaijan, Egypt, Malaysia, and Uzbekistan to suppress legitimate secular democratic forces.

The reality in much of the Islamic world is that democratic secular voices are opposed not only by tyrannical regimes, but also by powerful extremist Islamic political forces, some of them supported by the power of the mosque, which often promotes antidemocratic and anti-Western viewpoints.

The lack of progress for political rights and civil liberties in much of the Islamic world should not suggest that the Islamic world is incapable of rapid momentum toward democratic change.  If one examined the political map of the world at the beginning of the 1950s, one might have observed the singular absence of democratic governance among countries with Catholic majorities. At that time, authoritarian governments predominated on the Iberian peninsula, in East-Central Europe, in the Philippines, and in most of Latin America. By the 1960s, the attitudes of Catholic clergy and the Catholic hierarchy had begun to shift and the Church increasingly was taking up the causes of the downtrodden and those victimized by oligarchies and tyrannies.  These trends reached an apogee under the leadership of Pope John Paul II, who clearly articulated and reinforced trends supporting such values as human rights, freedom of association, the dignity of the worker, and trade union rights. 

All this suggests that religion is not an immutable factor in political change.  Rather, religious leaders and clergy seek frequently to be responsive to public sentiments.  When public sentiment shifts toward democracy, for example, religious leaders tend to be swept up in the popular mood, even as they seek to put forward transcendent values.  This is possible because the great religious traditions are rich in references to the dignity of the individual and are malleable enough to support the project of democratic reform.

Similarly, someone looking at the European political landscape in the late 1980s might have pointed to the fact that the Orthodox Christian states seemed resistant to democratic practice. Now, significant reform has been achieved in such protestant states as Bulgaria, Serbia, and Yugoslavia, and democratically elected governments have become the norm in Russia and Ukraine.

It is not to be discounted that similar trends toward democratic change can occur in the coming decades in the Islamic world. Indeed, in one sense, the Arabic countries share one important characteristic with the vast majority of liberal democracies: they are mono-ethnic states with a majority ethnic group representing more than two-thirds of the population.


Just as there are important regional variations in basic freedoms and political systems, there are also noteworthy distinctions between mono-ethnic and multiethnic countries with regard to freedom and democracy. Indeed, democracy is, as a rule, significantly more successful in mono-ethnic societies (that is, societies in which there is a single dominant-majority ethnic group representing more than two-thirds of the population) than in ethnically divided and multiethnic states.

When this year's survey data are examined through the prism of ethnic composition, they offer some revealing findings. For example, of Free countries, 63 (74 percent) have a dominant ethnic majority representing more than two-thirds of the population, while 22 (26 percent) do not. Among Partly Free countries, 24 (41 percent) are mono-ethnic, while 35 (59 percent) are multiethnic or ethnically divided. Additionally, among the Not Free states, there are 27 (56 percent) that are mono-ethnic, while 21 (44 percent) are not. In short, a state with a dominant ethnic group is some three times more likely to be Free than a multiethnic state.

Similar patterns can be found among the democracies. Of the world's 121 electoral democracies, 79 (65 percent) have a dominant ethnic group and 42 (35 percent) do not. Of the 71 countries that do not have a democratic government, 35 (49 percent) are mono-ethnic and 36 (51 percent) are not.

One reason for this outcome is that in ethnically divided and multiethnic societies, political parties tend to form around ethnic allegiances. This is particularly the case in multiethnic states where ethnic groups are not heterogeneously dispersed throughout the country, but live in specific geographic regions. Many African states fall into this pattern. At the same time, as a rule, in societies where there is a single dominant ethnic group, political mobilization along primarily ethnic lines is less likely and politics tend to divide along the lines of economic and class-based interests. This is the record of the nation-states in much of Western and Central Europe and in most countries in the Americas.

At the same time, it must be said that there are numerous examples of successful multiethnic societies, many of which have a strong tradition of decentralized power, federalism, and protection of ethnic and minority rights, and a strong and vibrant market system open to the participation of a broad range of religious and ethnic communities.


There are 48 states that are rated Not Free and in which a broad range of freedoms are systematically denied.  Of these, 28 have majority Islamic populations. Among the Not Free countries, 10 states have been given the survey's lowest rating of 7 for political rights and 7 for civil liberties. These worst-rated countries represent a narrow range of systems and cultures. Two--Cuba and North Korea--are one-party Marxist-Leninist regimes. Seven are majority Islamic countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, and Turkmenistan). The remaining worst-rated state is Burma, a tightly controlled military dictatorship.

There are two worst-rated territories: Tibet (under Chinese jurisdiction) and Chechnya, where an indigenous Islamic population is engaged in a brutal guerrilla war for independence from Russia.


The end of the Cold War and the more than quarter-century-long third wave of democratic expansion contributed to the reduction in perceptible threats to peace and  security. Analysts of global conflicts also have pointed to additional positive security-related trends: the absolute decline in major conflicts since the beginning of the 1990s and the virtual disappearance of interstate conflict.

Now the world faces the emergence of mass terrorism associated with a universalist revolutionary ideology that seeks to create a khilafah, a transnational caliphate, or Islamic regime,  governed on the basis of a rigorous and narrow-minded interpretation of Islam. This ideology, which repudiates democracy as an alien Western concept, will pose serious challenges inside established democracies, in new democracies, in countries seeking to reform, and among the world's tyrannies.

In established democracies, efforts to combat terrorism will necessarily require greater intrusiveness by the state in the lives of its citizens, and in particular in the activities of recent immigrants, foreign students, and short-term residents. Yet the deep roots of an independent judiciary in established democracies are likely to ensure that a proper balance between liberty and security is maintained.

In new democracies, weak political institutions will be faced with the challenge of intelligently coping with terrorist threats in the absence of entrenched traditions of respect for civil liberties. In settings just emerging from tyranny, the appeal to authoritarian quick fixes may find added resonance among electorates.

At the same time, there is already ample evidence that the war against terrorism may give already authoritarian regimes a pretext for political repression against opposition groups, whether or not credible links exist to terrorist and extremist movements.

The monstrous terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which have claimed thousands of lives in the United States are without question a watershed event in international affairs. In the coming years, key foreign policy issues and geopolitical alignments will be seen through the prism of that cataclysm and the comprehensive war on terrorism triggered by the murderous attack on America.

Yet the resurgence of mass terror on U.S. soil seems at great odds with the great trends of the last decade: the spread of democracy and the decline in major conflicts. With the impressive expansion of democratic regimes in Latin America, the countries of the former Soviet bloc, and parts of Asia and Africa, many envisioned an era of greater international cooperation. Likewise, many saw in the collapse of Communist ideology the disappearance of transnational ideological rivals to democracy and the free market. Clearly, the promise of democracy has not been destroyed by the events of September 11.

Indeed, the triumph of the values of democracy and human rights may well be contributing to the irrational fury of revolutionary millenarians, who seek in a series of dramatic acts of evil to reverse history and supplant the natural human instinct for autonomy and dignity with an esoteric ideology of neo-totalitarian control masked in the language of religion.


In this context, it would be wrong for the leaders of the democratic community of nations to conclude that the project of promoting the expansion of democracy must be abandoned or suspended in the face of the terrorist and Islamist threat.

Clearly, the proposition that democratic elections are an instant solution to the problems of all struggling societies is inappropriate. There are some societies so deformed and brutalized by decades of repression and terror that the call for immediate elections could lead to the electoral victory of demagogic forces eager to impose their own new forms of tyranny.

However, the project of providing to peoples living in closed societies the benefits of open access to information through uncensored radio and satellite television broadcasting and through initiatives that provide access to books on democracy and economic freedom must be intensified.

In addition, support should be given to countries that are seeking to move away from statism in their economic life and to afford their citizens the opportunity to exercise initiative in economic pursuits.

Finally, the international community should expand its commitments to support pro-democratic civic organizations and civil society in repressive settings.

Such initiatives must not be seen as somehow at odds with the antiterrorist agenda. Rather they should be seen as the mechanisms by which reliable allies of the democratic world and committed opponents of terrorism and ideological extremism are empowered.

As the battle against terrorism and extremism takes shape, it would be wrong to disregard the fundamental progress made over the last quarter century toward more open and democratic systems.  For it is the moral appeal of democratic values and the preponderance of strategic power and economic resources in the emerging global community of democratic states that are the most compelling reasons for confidence that the scourge of terrorism will be defeated.


Despite the vexing challenges posed by mass terrorism, there are convincing reasons to hope that the countries that embody the values of freedom and democracy can prevail. This above all is made clear by the overwhelming advantage that free societies enjoy  in terms of their share of the world's resources. Free countries account today for $26.8 trillion of the world's annual gross domestic product (GDP), which represents 86 percent of global economic activity. By contrast, Partly Free countries accounted for $2.3 trillion in output (7 percent) and Not Free countries produced $2.2 trillion in economic output, representing 7 percent of the globe's GDP.

These vast material and financial resources are a confirmation of the crucial role played by political freedom and the rule of law in spurring economic progress. Moreover, this vast reserve of the democratic world's economic power suggests that free countries can prevail in the project of eradicating mass terrorism, of defeating fanatical political movements, and of further expanding the ranks of free and democratic societies.

The prodigious reservoir of economic power, of technological advantage, and of military potential that belong to the democratic world suggests that there is a greater urgency than ever in building an effective, coordinated international community of democracies, in which the United States plays the leading role. In the current perilous environment, such a cohesive alliance of states can work in tandem to promote more open political and economic systems, while ensuring much needed foreign aid and investment targeted at countries that respect the rule of law and are moving along the democratic path.

(a) The large shift in the population figure between 1991 and 1992 is due to India's change from Free to Partly Free

(b) The large shift in the population figures between 1998 and 1999 is dues to India's change from Partly Free to Free

Table of Related Territories- 2001-2002

Country and TerritoryPRCLFreedom Rating
     Hong Kong



Partly Free
Partly Free
United Kingdom
     Northern Ireland



United States
     Puerto Rico




Worst Rated

10 Worst Rated Countries
North Korea
Saudi Arabia
2 Worst Rated Disputed Territories
Chechnya (Russia)
Tibet (China)

Adrian Karatnycky is president of Freedom House and general editor of Freedom in the World.

1Bernard Lewis, The Multiple Identities of the Middle East, New York: Schocken Books, 2001, pp. 28-29.

Tables and Charts

Tracking Democracy

Year Under ReviewNumber of Democracies

The Global Trend

FreePartly FreeNot Free

Freedom in the World 2002/2001 Survey Population

The population of the world as estimated in mid-2001 was 6,130.7 million persons, who reside in 192 sovereign states.  The level of political rights and civil liberties as shown comparatively by the Freedom House survey is:

Free: 2,500.7 million (40.79 percent of the world's population) live in 85 of the states.
Partly Free:  1,462.9 million (23.86 percent of the world's population) live in 59 of the states.
Not Free:  2,167.1 million (35.35 percent of the world's population) live in 48 of the states.

A Record of the Survey
(population in millions)

Survey DateFreePartly FreeNot FreeWorld Population
January 19811,613.0 (35.90%)970.9 (21.60%)1,911.9 (42.50%)4,495.8
January 19831,665.1 (36.32%)918.8 (20.04%)2,000.2 (43.64%)4,584.1
January 19851,671.4 (34.85%)1,117.4 (23.30%)2,007.0 (41.85%)4,795.8
January 19871,842.5 (37.10%)1,171.5 (23.60%)1,949.9 (39.30%)4,963.9
January 19891,992.8 (38.86%)1,027.9 (20.05%)2,107.3 (41.09%)5,128.0
January 19902,034.4 (38.87%)1,143.7 (21.85%)2,055.9 (39.28%)5,234.0
January 19912,088.2 (39.23%)1,485.7 (27.91%)1,748.7 (32.86%)5,322.6
January 1992 (a)1,359.3 (25.29%)2,306.6 (42.92%)1708.2 (31.79%)5,374.2
January 19931,352.4 (24.83%)2,403.3 (44.11%)1,690.4 (31.06%)5,446.0
January 19941,046.2 (19.00%)2,224.4 (40.41%)2,234.6 (40.59%)5,505.2
January 19951,119.7 (19.97%)2,243.4 (40.01%)2,243.9 (40.02%)5,607.0
January 19961,114.5 (19.55%)2,365.8 (41.49%)2,221.2 (38.96%)5,701.5
January 19971,250.3 (21.67%)2,260.1 (39.16%)2,260.6 (39.17%)5,771.0
January 19981,266.0 (21.71%)2,281.9 (39.12%)2,284.6 (39.17%)5,832.5
January 19992,354.0 (39.84%)1,570.6 (26.59%)1,984.1 (33.58%)5,908.7
January 20002,324.9 (38.90%)1,529.0 (25.58%)2,122.4 (35.41%)5,976.3
January 20012,465.2 (40.69%)1,435.8 (23.70%)2,157.5 (35.61%)6,058.5
January 20022,500.7 (40.79%)1,462.9 (23.86%)2167.1 (35.35%)6,130.7

I remain committed to the faith of my teenage years: to authentic human freedom as a precondition for the highest good. I stand against confiscatory taxes, totalitarian collectives, and the ideology of the inevitability of the death of every individual. For all these reasons, I still call myself “libertarian.”

But I must confess that over the last two decades, I have changed radically on the question of how to achieve these goals. Most importantly, I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible. By tracing out the development of my thinking, I hope to frame some of the challenges faced by all classical liberals today.

As a Stanford undergraduate studying philosophy in the late 1980s, I naturally was drawn to the give-and-take of debate and the desire to bring about freedom through political means. I started a student newspaper to challenge the prevailing campus orthodoxies; we scored some limited victories, most notably in undoing speech codes instituted by the university. But in a broader sense we did not achieve all that much for all the effort expended. Much of it felt like trench warfare on the Western Front in World War I; there was a lot of carnage, but we did not move the center of the debate. In hindsight, we were preaching mainly to the choir — even if this had the important side benefit of convincing the choir’s members to continue singing for the rest of their lives.

As a young lawyer and trader in Manhattan in the 1990s, I began to understand why so many become disillusioned after college. The world appears too big a place. Rather than fight the relentless indifference of the universe, many of my saner peers retreated to tending their small gardens. The higher one’s IQ, the more pessimistic one became about free-market politics — capitalism simply is not that popular with the crowd. Among the smartest conservatives, this pessimism often manifested in heroic drinking; the smartest libertarians, by contrast, had fewer hang-ups about positive law and escaped not only to alcohol but beyond it.

As one fast-forwards to 2009, the prospects for a libertarian politics appear grim indeed. Exhibit A is a financial crisis caused by too much debt and leverage, facilitated by a government that insured against all sorts of moral hazards — and we know that the response to this crisis involves way more debt and leverage, and way more government. Those who have argued for free markets have been screaming into a hurricane. The events of recent months shatter any remaining hopes of politically minded libertarians. For those of us who are libertarian in 2009, our education culminates with the knowledge that the broader education of the body politic has become a fool’s errand.

Indeed, even more pessimistically, the trend has been going the wrong way for a long time. To return to finance, the last economic depression in the United States that did not result in massive government intervention was the collapse of 1920–21. It was sharp but short, and entailed the sort of Schumpeterian “creative destruction” that could lead to a real boom. The decade that followed — the roaring 1920s — was so strong that historians have forgotten the depression that started it. The 1920s were the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics. Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron.

In the face of these realities, one would despair if one limited one’s horizon to the world of politics. I do not despair because I no longer believe that politics encompasses all possible futures of our world. In our time, the great task for libertarians is to find an escape from politics in all its forms — from the totalitarian and fundamentalist catastrophes to the unthinking demos that guides so-called “social democracy.”

The critical question then becomes one of means, of how to escape not via politics but beyond it. Because there are no truly free places left in our world, I suspect that the mode for escape must involve some sort of new and hitherto untried process that leads us to some undiscovered country; and for this reason I have focused my efforts on new technologies that may create a new space for freedom. Let me briefly speak to three such technological frontiers:

(1) Cyberspace. As an entrepreneur and investor, I have focused my efforts on the Internet. In the late 1990s, the founding vision of PayPal centered on the creation of a new world currency, free from all government control and dilution — the end of monetary sovereignty, as it were. In the 2000s, companies like Facebook create the space for new modes of dissent and new ways to form communities not bounded by historical nation-states. By starting a new Internet business, an entrepreneur may create a new world. The hope of the Internet is that these new worlds will impact and force change on the existing social and political order. The limitation of the Internet is that these new worlds are virtual and that any escape may be more imaginary than real. The open question, which will not be resolved for many years, centers on which of these accounts of the Internet proves true.

(2) Outer space. Because the vast reaches of outer space represent a limitless frontier, they also represent a limitless possibility for escape from world politics. But the final frontier still has a barrier to entry: Rocket technologies have seen only modest advances since the 1960s, so that outer space still remains almost impossibly far away. We must redouble the efforts to commercialize space, but we also must be realistic about the time horizons involved. The libertarian future of classic science fiction, à la Heinlein, will not happen before the second half of the 21st century.

(3) Seasteading. Between cyberspace and outer space lies the possibility of settling the oceans. To my mind, the questions about whether people will live there (answer: enough will) are secondary to the questions about whether seasteading technology is imminent. From my vantage point, the technology involved is more tentative than the Internet, but much more realistic than space travel. We may have reached the stage at which it is economically feasible, or where it soon will be feasible. It is a realistic risk, and for this reason I eagerly support this initiative.

The future of technology is not pre-determined, and we must resist the temptation of technological utopianism — the notion that technology has a momentum or will of its own, that it will guarantee a more free future, and therefore that we can ignore the terrible arc of the political in our world.

A better metaphor is that we are in a deadly race between politics and technology. The future will be much better or much worse, but the question of the future remains very open indeed. We do not know exactly how close this race is, but I suspect that it may be very close, even down to the wire. Unlike the world of politics, in the world of technology the choices of individuals may still be paramount. The fate of our world may depend on the effort of a single person who builds or propagates the machinery of freedom that makes the world safe for capitalism.

For this reason, all of us must wish Patri Friedman the very best in his extraordinary experiment.

Editor’s Note: Mr. Thiel has further elaborated on the question of suffrage here. We copy these remarks below as well:

I had hoped my essay on the limits of politics would provoke reactions, and I was not disappointed. But the most intense response has been aimed not at cyberspace, seasteading, or libertarian politics, but at a commonplace statistical observation about voting patterns that is often called the gender gap.

It would be absurd to suggest that women’s votes will be taken away or that this would solve the political problems that vex us. While I don’t think any class of people should be disenfranchised, I have little hope that voting will make things better.

Voting is not under siege in America, but many other rights are. In America, people are imprisoned for using even very mild drugs, tortured by our own government, and forced to bail out reckless financial companies.

I believe that politics is way too intense. That’s why I’m a libertarian. Politics gets people angry, destroys relationships, and polarizes peoples’ vision: the world is us versus them; good people versus the other. Politics is about interfering with other people’s lives without their consent. That’s probably why, in the past, libertarians have made little progress in the political sphere. Thus, I advocate focusing energy elsewhere, onto peaceful projects that some consider utopian.

Also from this issue

Lead Essay

  • Beyond Folk Activism by Patri Friedman

    In this month’s lead essay, Patri Friedman charges libertarian activists with falling victim to bias: Specifically, they seem to suffer from the belief that advocacy and education are enough to change public policy. Friedman suggests otherwise, and he recommends that much more effort be put into demonstration projects that will show how a libertarian world might work. Not only will these projects do more than mere persuasion toward winning the war of ideas, but they will also allow individual libertarians to live in a much freer society, and they will exert competitive pressure on existing governments to reform themselves. Friedman discusses several such projects, including his own, the Seasteading Institute.

Response Essays

  • The Many Paths to Libertarianism by Brian Doherty

    Brian Doherty argues that Patri Friedman is both right in some ways and wrong in others. He’s right when he argues that incentives and technologies largely determine the shape of government today, and create the problems that libertarians tirelessly point out. He’s wrong, however, to dismiss “folk activism” entirely: Not only has it achieved some clear though incremental good, but it also helps create more libertarians, and at some point, this effort seems likely to bear fruit. Not only that, but seasteading relies on some folk activism itself, in convincing a large number of people that it would be a good idea to try. On the whole, Doherty welcomes seasteading as one of many possible paths to a more libertarian world.

  • Leveraging Institutional Change by Jason Sorens

    Jason Sorens reviews several important historical developments, including the rise of free trade in the nineteenth century and the growth of the welfare state in the twentieth. He concludes that structural change matters, and that incentives play a larger role than ideology in determining the type of government we get. He then considers several of the key challenges of both Seasteading and the Free State Project, as well as a few encouraging developments in recent politics that appear tied to the rise of the Free State movement. He counsels patience, but also proposes several strategies for moving forward.

  • The Education of a Libertarian by Peter Thiel

    Peter Thiel shares the belief that politics is mostly futile, a conclusion he reached after years of activism. In particular, he believes that democratic politics is unlikely to bring about libertarian outcomes. Fortunately, politics is just one sphere of human life, and it’s possible, he argues, to create technologies that minimize its reach. Thiel describes a “deadly race” between politics and technology, in which human freedom is the prize. The goal of libertarian activism should not be to win in politics, he argues, but to escape it.

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