The Future of Freedom | Fareed Zakaria

Summary of: The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad
By: Fareed Zakaria


In ‘The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad,’ Fareed Zakaria explores the rise of democracy over the past century and its impact on individual liberty. Zakaria delves into the complex relationships between democracy, liberty, and economic development, demonstrating that while they were once inseparable, they are now distinct concepts. Through historical analysis and case studies, the author examines the current challenges facing countries striving to balance democracy and liberty, as well as outlining possible solutions for regions where these principles are threatened.

The Rise and Complexities of Democracy

Over the past century, democracy has emerged as the dominant political trend worldwide. With 119 countries classified as democracies, the movement towards democratization continues to flatten hierarchies, increase organizational transparency, and distribute economic power. However, the power shift from the state to other entities such as capital markets and corporations has reduced the power of the state, leading to an increase in smuggling and terrorism. Furthermore, democracy does not necessarily imply individual liberty, as many countries have curtailed basic rights despite being democracies. The rise of technology, wealth, the expanding middle class, and the influence of America has contributed to the forcefulness of democratization. While technology has increased political decentralization, it is not the sole driving force. The democratization trend has fostered a new cultural realm where record-grossing movies, music, and TV shows reflect a performer’s work. Ultimately, the global movement towards democracy is complex and has both positive and negative implications.

The Rise of Liberty

The origin of liberty dates back to the rise of the Christian Church in Rome, which gained public control by managing birth, death, and marriage rituals. As the church grew in power, conflict with the aristocracy led to the signing of the Magna Carta, which outlined jurisdictional boundaries. With the advent of capitalism, a new middle class emerged, leading to political and economic advances in England and America. While democracy and liberty are often linked, their connection in modern history has been complex and at times broken.

Wealth and Democracy

Weak economic development is the greatest threat to global liberty. Social scientist Seymour Martin Lipset and other experts agree that per capita national income is linked to liberal democracy. Widespread studies show that new democracies thrive with wealth. It gives power to the middle class and business community independent of political or state sponsorship and the state becomes more responsive to society’s needs. Nations like Romania, Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Malaysia, Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, and Iran are on the brink of democratization with high per capita incomes. Liberalizing a nation’s economy fosters liberal politics. China is an example of this: despite the Communist Party’s iron grip on political power, it has opened its economy to capitalism, leading to unprecedented economic growth since 1980. Nevertheless, government officials insist on maintaining a tough stance to control change and prevent chaos. In summary, a nation’s wealth promotes democracy, while lack of economic development poses a significant threat to global liberty.

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