A Book Review Of The Future Of Freedom Politics Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

This term paper discusses in details the Critique of the book "The Future of Freedom", written by Mr. Fareed Zakaria. The author has majorly provided a different angle to the meaning of democracy and come up with an altogether new concept of illiberal democracy. He discusses and tries to find out whether liberty brings in democracy, or democracy ensures liberty or both can co-exist. We have followed an interesting methodology, under which we have compared the Democratic Index with the Human Development Index and established a correlation index between the two. We have discussed various intriguing points raised by the author and tried to find and fill in the gaps left by the author.

Liberty vs. Democracy

Liberty in simple terms is defined as the ability for an individual to pursue his own goals without too much of Government Interference. On the other hand, Democracy can be defined as an organizational structure wherein, key people for political governance are elected by elections.

Zakaria discusses the West Model of democracy and states that the distinctive feature of America is that, laws and rights are firmly established in the country. This is so because, liberty came first in America, and then they moved on to a democracy.

The author further takes the examples of countries like Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Malaysia and discusses the East Asian Model. He states these countries follow the European pattern of Capitalism and the rule of law first and then Democracy. All the earlier mentioned countries have been governed earlier by military rule or single party juntas.

Liberal vs. Illiberal Democracy

Liberal democracy can be defined as function of five parameters, viz. Liberty of Speech, Liberty to form Associations, Liberty to follow any Religion, Liberty of Property and Free Elections. We can say that democracy doesn't always necessarily be liberal. We can take the example of China, wherein though there are elections for the choice of government, but still democracy is dangerous for such a big country, according to the author.

Illiberal democracy exists wherein the people have the rights to elect their representatives, but the civil liberties are denied to them. Russia and China are the biggest examples of not having liberal democracies. Both Russia and China have taken different paths for development. While China has focused on reforming its economy and slowly other legal and administrative aspects; Russia moved first on political reform. Today, we can say Russia is a freer country as compared to China. The question that needs to be addressed is that in the long run which more successful; economic development first or political development. If we look at the GNP of Russia it has declined almost 40% since 1991, and has recovered because of the rise in the oil prices. Zakaria says by this that economic development earlier is the key to a successful and liberal economy.

Zakaria says that the best way to bring in liberal democracies into developing countries is to implement constitutional liberty rather than democracy. This he further extends and says if electoral democracy is established before achieving constitutional liberty; it is most likely to end up in an illiberal democracy. The author speculates that if now the elections would be held in the Middle East or North African countries, it would be won by the fundamentalist parties who would destroy the little bit of liberty left in these countries.

Constitutional Liberty

Now, the question that arises is what makes Constitutional Liberty possible. According to the author, it is the development of autonomous institutions within the society; the development of institutions of property created by the development of Capitalism. He writes clearly "If the struggles between Church and State, lords and kings, and Catholics and Protestants cracked open the door for individual liberty, capitalism blew the walls down."

In today's scenario Zakaria says, the conditions are the most inhospitable in the countries wherein, there is an access to unearned wealth, like Saudi Arabia (oil revenues) or Egypt (Canal Revenues). He has named them as "trust fund" societies. The missing thing in these societies is an independent middle class, which could have provided for the constitutional liberty. The basic problem with these countries is wealth and not poverty.

The solution by the author is to force them to devote their unearned revenues to education and economic development. For example in case of Chad, the World Bank agreed to develop the oil fields in return asking for 80% of the revenues to be spent on health, education and rural infrastructure.

Democratic Index

The Economist Intelligences Unit's Democratic index provides a snapshot of the state of democracy worldwide and gives a ranking of countries based on an index score calculated on the basis of the following parameters:

Electoral process and pluralism

Civil liberties

The functioning of government

Political participation

Political culture

For a fully consolidated democracy only free and fair elections and civil liberties are not sufficient it should be supplemented by efficient government, sufficient political participation and a supportive democratic political culture. Even in long established democracies, if it is not nurtured and protected; it may lead to dysfunctional democracies, which Zakaria also argues the case American Democracy has become with more focus on populist opinion, rather than what's best for America and also with the case of India, which Zakaria feels has become a flawed democracy mainly because it scores low in political participation and political culture.

According to the Democracy Index 2010 report, countries are classified into the following types of regimes as mentioned in the table below:

Table 1 Democracy 2010, by regime type

Index Score

No. of Countries

% of World Population

Full Democracies




Flawed Democracies




Hybrid Regimes




Authoritarian Regimes

Below 4



Source: Economist Intelligence Unit, Democracy Index 2010

Democracy in Retreat

Democracy in Decline which is the main theme of the Democratic Index 2010 report, points out that there has been a decline in democracy since 2008 after the impressive democratization seen in the world after the third-wave in 1974 and fall of the Soviet Empire in 1989, however success of democracy in such countries is not encouraging with most turning to either illiberal democracies or authoritarian rule, as seen in the case of Middle East, most African countries and East European Countries formed after the fall of the Soviet Union. This is the main point in Fareed Zakaria's book too, The Future of Freedom, Illiberal democracy at home and abroad with his main emphasis being on the point that countries which opted for the much accepted democratic way of governance with lack of institutions to ensure constitutional liberty first and also mainly because of low levels of economic development.

Correlation between the Democratic Index and the Human Development Index (HDI)

Since full democracies was usually seen in developed countries with high standards of living, we tried to correlate democracy (liberty) with the UN HDI which is based on social indicators like literacy, standard of living, healthcare. Also HDI is somewhat directly related to economic prosperity and as Zakaria argues in his essay The Wealth of the Nations, that successful liberal democracies are usually seen in economically developed countries which had economic liberalism first and then introduced constitutional liberalism.

Correlation of 0.277 was observed between the Democratic Index and HDI (source: UN Database)

It was observed that though many countries like Iran, Bahrain, Singapore and some resource-rich countries scored low on Democracy Index they scored high on the HDI.

UK and US though having high Democratic index had low HDI


Democracy Index

















Countries like Singapore has liberal autocratic regimes, while Iran and Bahrain have authoritarian rule with elected Islamic theocracy being in power in Iran.

We analyzed the case of the Islamic Republic of Iran and to understand its regime.

Case Study: The Islamic Republic of Iran

Constitution system of Iran

Source: BBC

Iran became a unique Islamic republic in 1979, when religious clerics assumed political control under supreme leader Ayatollah Khomenei after overthrowing the monarchy of the Shah.

The current supreme leader Ayatollah ali Khamenei elected for life, appoints the heads of judiciary, armed forces, guardian council, Friday prayer leaders and head of radio and TV. He also confirms the president with the current president Mr Ahmadinejad is Iran's first president since 1981 who is not a cleric.

The President is the Head of executive branch, for maximum two terms to whom powers are circumscribed by clerics and the Presidential candidates vetted by Guardian council.

The Assembly of experts is controlled by the conservatives with only clerics eligible to join and the candidates for the president.

Though being under Theologists since 1979, it appeared to be entering a promising era with the victory of Reformist under Mohd. Khatami who was popularly elected by the youth and esp. women in 2000, but he couldn't push his reforms because of the conservative Guardian council and hardliners.

Reformists were dealt a major blow when Mr Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005, who was later controversial re-elected in June 2009 with the violent suppression of subsequent opposition protests has further widened the rift between conservatives and reformists within Iran's political establishment.

Wealth of the Nations

Fareed Zakaria argues that economic liberalism is first necessary to bring order first, only the constitutional liberalism can be achieved, because economic liberalism leads to the creation of institutions which later ensure property rights and right to freedom, only after which if Democracy is introduced it can be a liberal democracy. He points out the case of the Western world, where economic liberalization and capitalism came first and lead to creation of institutions which ensured constitutional liberalism, which ensured liberal democracy in these countries. He has given a zone of transition in term of per capita GDP; he argues that countries with per capita GDP of $3000-6000 can have successful liberal democracies if they try to change from their current form of governance. He cites the examples of Mexico, Singapore, Chile to support his argument.

We analyzed the per capita GDP of all the countries and the regimes in those countries to have our own view on his argument.

While his argument holds in examples like Singapore and some east European countries like Czech Republic, countries like Azerbaijan, Romania, and Albania which meet his criteria are still finding it difficult to sustain democracy.

We have analyzed the case of Azerbaijan in the next section.

Empirical Evidence for Zakaria's argument of the rise of Illiberal democracy


Brief Profile

Oil-Rich & Natural Resource Country


Independence from Soviet Union in 1991 - WAY TO FREEDOM


Heydar since 1993- Former Soviet Communist leader

Ilham Aliyev took over as president from his father, Heydar, in 2003

Voter Intimidation, Biased Media, Elections, Political Hierarchy - Two term already done


Illiberal Democracy - elected autocrat


Brief Profile

Rule of Military Junta since 1962


Province of British Raj until 1937, later a separate colony. Gained Freedom in 1948


Military Junta Rule since 1962, Elections in Nov 2010, New Constitution-Parliament & President, Military 25% Seats, Elections seen as sham by Oppostion, Suu kyi led NLD not represented


Illiberal Democracy


Brief Profile

Commercially-vibrant metropolis fused with Chinese and Western influences


Became a special administrative region of China in 1997 after expiry of Britain's 99-year lease


Hong Kong's constitution, the Basic Law, provides for the development of democratic processes. However, Beijing can veto changes to the political system and pro-democracy forces have been frustrated by what they see as the slow pace of political reform.


Hybrid Regime


Brief Profile

Part of erstwhile Rhodesia, Collapsing agricultural economy


British crown colony of Southern Rhodesia, Robert Mugabe wrested control from the White Minority


Robert Mugabe in power for three decades since independence, Elections in 2008, Mugabe Defeated& agreed a power-sharing deal with Mr Tsvangirai


Illiberal Autocracy

Parallels with Domino Effect of Tunisia/Egypt in Middle-East to new wave Theory of Zakaria

Domino Effect of Pro-Democracy Street Protests in Tunisia passed on in Egypt too with calls for President Hosni Mubarak to stand down and free elections to be organized.

Similar protests have been seen in Yemen, Jordan and the other neighbouring countries too with the Oil-rich countries of Middle-East also feeling the pressure too. However, fears of Islamic theocracy rising to the power are significant in the Western World.

Experts feel the autocratic regimes in the oil rich countries will be put to test too with the events happening in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and the other countries.

Conditions which led to the pro-democracy protests from the people against the authoritarian rule:

Tough Economic Conditions

Official Corruption

Limited Freedom to express dissatisfaction with the political system

The Final Critical Points

There are a couple of points wherein, Zakaria's view point can be criticized. Zakaria draws a relationship between democratization and Madisonian liberty on one hand and democracy and constitutional liberty on the other. Democratization has a relationship and actually corresponds to democracy. The expansion of the vote for blacks in the South involved democratization and was a victory for democracy.

Another problem is that Zakaria doesn't always puts things in the historical context, and hence leads to the reason as too much democracy instead of other possible reasons. Like, in politics the special interests group have always had an influence and is not new.

Zakaria says in order to democratize politics, the campaign finance reform bill of 1974 created new unaccountable power brokers and forced politicians to devote all their time to fundraising. But he misses out on an important part. The 1974 reforms limited not only the size of contributions, but also how much politicians could spend. According to the initial law, politicians would not have had to spend all their time raising money. But in 1976, the Supreme Court, ruled in Buckley vs. Valeo that money was speech and that Congress could not limit how much a politician could spend. As a result of this decision, politicians do have to spend all their time raising money.

American democracy did indeed originally flourish, as Zakaria argues in the first part of his book, on the basis of constitutional liberty. And, the Americans assumed that the liberty of property would lead to the diffusion of small property holdings, which would in turn reinforce the foundations of political democracy. But it didn't turn out that way. The yeoman farmer was replaced by the wage-earner, and the small manufacturer and craftsman by the large corporation.

The cycle of liberty and democracy in US has thus not been the one that Zakaria describes in the later part of the book. Constitutional liberty did lay the foundation for liberal democracy, but the growth of free enterprise, based on liberty of property, has started to erode this foundation. He is utterly right about Russia, Indonesia, and Iraq. Without constitutional liberty, too much democracy can lead to disaster. US has a different problem. It still has too little.