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By the time the democratic wave plateaued at the turn of the millennium, more than five dozen democracies had been created or restored, and the percentage of democratic states in the world rose from 27 in 1975 to 62 in 2005. Among the 192 independent states surveyed by Freedom House in the same year, 119 ranked as electoral democracies and 89 attained the more exacting standard reserved for truly free societies, ones respectful of civil liberties and the rule of law, as well as exercising genuine electoral competition.

The democratic surge was certainly boosted by the demise of Soviet Communism and the triumph of the West, but it also played a critical role in legitimising the post-Cold War international order and transforming expectations about acceptable forms of government. In a bipolar world with few democracies, both the US and USSR fostered loyal protégés above all else and avoided potentially destabilising political experiments.

The end of the Cold War not only allowed for the expansion of democratic government and free markets into the former Communist bloc and non-aligned group of countries, it eliminated a chief rational for tolerating autocratic regimes — such as apartheid South Africa or Ceauşescu’s Romania — and produced an explosion of international political and economic incentives for states to qualify as democracies. For the first time, membership in prestigious Western-led clubs, such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the EU, and Organization of American States (OAS) became explicitly conditional on fulfilment of democratic criteria. International election monitoring, virtually unknown until the end of the Cold War, became ubiquitous. And after the 9/11 attacks there was renewed interest in liberal democracy as the guarantor of peace and security, with the European Security Strategy unanimously adopted in December 2003 by the heads of state of the EU declaring that “the best protection for our society is a world of well-governed democratic states” and the 2006 National Security Strategy of the US unequivocally endorsing the central liberal insight that “the fundamental character of regimes matters as much as the distribution of power among them”. So much for Cold War “realism” in which states were likened to opaque billiard balls whose internal values and systems of government were irrelevant to international politics.

Gains in political freedom reached a high water mark at the turn of the millennium, stagnated until 2005–6 and then entered a period of accelerating decline. Since 2006 the number of both electoral and liberal democracies has dropped slightly, though so far we have not experienced an outright “reverse wave”, in which democratic regimes collapse and authoritarianism proliferates, on the scale experienced in the 1930s and, to a lesser extent, the 1960s.

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January 18th, 2017
4:01 PM
I agree wholeheartedly with Lorna. This article is somewhat confused. Firstly followers of Trumpism (whatever that is)are not turning their backs on the values and institutions underpinning liberal democracy, although the author does not actually specify what these are, but simply voted for the wrong candidate in his eyes. Whatever you may think of Trump he won a free and fair election, and just because he panders to certain voters fears to suggest he is a danger to democracy is a falsehood. Secondly Amichai seems to then go on to conflate the Trump voters with a growing number of younger citizens 'more willing to entertain the notion of living under authoritarian rule'. I am pretty sure these young people are not Trump supporters, but have grown up being told by the left that the 'gentle authoritarianism' of institutions such as the EU are a better form of government than liberal democracy within a sovereign state. People are voting outside the 'system' because they no longer trust the political elite and are sick of being patronised by them if the only alternative is a Trump of a party of the extreme right or left then that's where they will turn.

December 1st, 2016
8:12 PM
Good comment Lorna

Lorna Salzman
November 26th, 2016
2:11 AM
A close comprehensive look at the history of democracy, with only one flaw: depicting opposition to 'free trade" and immigration as regressive anti democratic populism. But this is typical of liberals (including George Soros) and institutions like the EU who cling to their own kind of "gentle"authoritarianism" in order to promote what are actually anti democratic policies as well as trying to persuade us that opposition to unlimited unvetted immigration is pure xenopohbia and racism. It is this arrogance that pushes people into the arms of the populists and right wing. The author of this piece has regrettably joined forces with the neo liberals in denigrating genuine public concern over terrorism and globalization policies written by and for the corporate elite. The Democrats lost the election in the US because in the end they couldn't fool the American electorate about what they stood for.

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