Democracy Alive and Entrenched

By: Daniel Nardini

According to its annual report on democracy worldwide, Freedom House states that democracy has not overall advanced for the seventh consecutive year. What does this mean? It means that some countries are less democratic than they were, and some are more democratic than they were. But the overall picture suggests that the number of “free” countries has not changed while the number of “partly free” countries has gone back and forth and the number of “not free” countries has basically changed by one. The one change is Myanmar (formely Burma), from “not free” to “partly free.” In all categories, how a country is determined to be “free,” “partly free,” or “not free” depends on freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of mobility, protection of individual rights, and the strength of those institutions charged with protecting these freedoms in any single country.

In countries like Russia, there has been a serious decline not only in those institutions supposed to protect freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and political opposition, but the creation of non-democratic institutions that perpetuate almost unlimited government rule. The report was also critical of the United States for not doing enough to encourage democracy or the protection of democratic institutions in the world. The report was equally scathing about U.S. President Barack Obama and the Republican opposition in the U.S. House of Representatives for not putting their differences aside and working to promote democracy. Of course, with neither side being able to come up with a working fiscal budget, one should not be surprised for failing to work together on promoting democracy.

Despite all this, the two pieces of good news is that democracy has not overall declined in the world, and is still alive and well. Just as equally gratifying is that despite the economic upheavals that have occurred in North America and in Western Europe, the democratic institutions in these regions have remained stable and have survived. Many individuals, civil and human rights organizations have fought to keep government intrusion at a minimum. Just as equally important are Western Europe and North America’s independent judiciary which have teeth to protect and enforce the laws of the land. This is one important key in the protection of the rights of the individual—it limits the power of any government that might otherwise have too much power over their own people. Even though democracy has not advanced overall, it is far from dead and remains protected where it has been entrenched for decades and even centuries. This is cause for optimism.

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