The downside of democracy

Growing disillusionment with flawed, tarnished and failing democracies

Published on Apr 27, 2013 12:21 AM
Ultimately, the failures of democracies around the world in recent years owe a lot to the weaknesses of humans. Dictatorships are toppled by people's revolutions, violent or peaceful. But new freedom too often turns into a free-for-all. -- ST ILLUSTRATION: MIEL

WINSTON Churchill famously once said: "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."

Joshua Kurlantzick's new book does not recycle that quote, but it could well have. Democracy In Retreat weaves a persuasive tapestry of restive middle classes around the world dissatisfied with tarnished, flawed and failing democracies, drawing on a wide range of published research as well as that of his own and his colleagues at the Council on Foreign Relations where he is a Fellow.

Above all and probably coincidentally, the book is well-timed and appropriate as a cautionary note, given recent developments in Myanmar. Among the work of others liberally cited is that of Yale University's Amy Chua, who has contended that in countries that democratise rapidly, change can boomerang on small minorities - like it did on ethnic Chinese in Indonesia and Lebanese in west Africa.

Freedom House has noted that the number of electoral democracies fell in 2010 to its lowest number since 1995. As for the Arab Spring, it had little real impact. Conflict continues in many Arab Spring countries, and other authoritarian countries may have been prompted by the Arab Spring to crack down even harder on dissent.

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