Fareed Zakaria, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad (New York: W.W. Norton, 2003), 256 pp., $24.95.
FOLLOWING the paths of Samuel Huntington, Francis Fukuyama, Robert Kaplan and other authors of highly successful "state-of-the-world" articles, Fareed Zakaria has turned his much discussed 1997 Foreign Affairs essay, "The Rise of Illiberal Democracy", into a book. With more than five years having elapsed in the passage, his slim volume is well-shielded against the possible charge that it is merely an "instant book." The intervening years also allowed a longer-term evaluation of how his original thesis is holding up.
Zakaria's original article hit a major nerve. Enthusiasm about "the worldwide democratic revolution" was rampant in the 1990s. Perceptively sensing that all was not well in the dozens of celebrated democratic transitions around the world, Zakaria punctured that enthusiasm with a sharp analytic arrow. He asserted that the global rush of democratization into previously undemocratic terrain was a dangerous thing. It was producing, he argued, a rash of illiberal democracies, defined roughly as countries where popularly elected leaders, unconstrained by any well-established institutions or habits of law-based liberalism, were trampling political and civil rights and generally making a hash out of democracy. A much better way to proceed, he said, was for a country first to pass through a sustained period of liberalizing autocracy, with gradual expansion of economic liberalization and the rule of law. Only once well down that road should the dangerous wilds of democracy be braved. Like Huntington's "Clash of Civiliz ations" and Kaplan's "The Coming Anarchy", Zakaria's article benefited from the inimitable tendency of America's chattering classes periodically to embrace thundering prognostications of gloom and doom as occasional respites from a congenitally optimistic national outlook.