Democratic liberalism v. authoritarianism – the ideological divide that defined the twentieth century. But when the cold war ended, “the end of history” was proclaimed. Soon the fire of freedom would burn worldwide, the experts said. And where markets were freed, human rights would inevitably follow.
Or not. In the last twenty years, nations including India, Russia, China and the United Arab Emirates have disproved the idea that capitalism and democracy are inextricably linked. Emerging middle classes have proven themselves all too willing to sacrifice certain democratic rights – including free speech, an open media, and free elections – in exchange for prosperity. But they are not alone. We are all doing it. Alarmingly, Western democracy has adopted some of the attributes of that authoritarianism.
Combining boots on the ground reporting with incisive analysis, award-winning journalist John Kampfner describes this alarming trend – one which has only been exacerbated by the global economic meltdown – and what citizens must do to counter it.
Democratic values are on the retreat across the globe, according to Kampfner (Blair s Wars), former editor of the New Statesman. Kampfner attends to established democracies (England, the U.S.) and to nations with no democratic tradition (China, the United Arab Emirates), in each case asserting that the citizenry has entered into an unspoken pact with the government, giving up certain rights and liberties in exchange for greater prosperity or the perception of better security. The forms and severity of the restrictions change from place to place: in Singapore, critics of the government are slapped with bogus but costly defamation lawsuits, a relatively benign method compared to the assassinations that have become common in Russia. While generally measured in tone, Kampfner has harsh words for his fellow Britons, who he describes as all too ready to acquiesce as the country has become a surveillance state, home to 20% of the world s closed-circuit security cameras. Crisply written and smartly argued, this global tour of civil liberties in decline from India to Italy is an unnerving, urgent, and very persuasive wake-up call.