Illiberal Democracy Five Years Later: Democracy's Fate in the 21st Century. (Democracy)

By Zakaria, Faheed | Harvard International Review, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Illiberal Democracy Five Years Later: Democracy's Fate in the 21st Century. (Democracy)


Zakaria, Faheed, Harvard International Review


HARVARD INTERNATIONAL REVIEW:

In your seminal piece in Foreign Affairs, you described the dichotomy between the spread of liberal constitutionalism and democratization. How has the experience of the last few years changed your interpretation of this trend?

I think that, as with any theory when it encounters reality, mine has grown in interesting ways that I could not have predicted. Some things have happened over the past few years that have powerfully confirmed my views, and some things, frankly, have happened that have made me ask whether I need to modify some of its elements. For one example, when I wrote in 1997 about illiberal democracies, I mentioned Russia as an example, which met with a lot of criticism. A lot of people thought I was being too tough on [Russian President Boris] Yeltsin, but I think the subsequent two or three years have borne out my analysis very well. Yeltsin moved in an even more authoritarian direction by the end of his presidency, and instituted in effect what Richard Pipes has called a coup d'etat by resigning six months before his term was due to end, installing Vladimir Putin as president. Putin then went on to dismantle several other features of constitutional government. That sort of consolidation of elected autocracy has taken place not only in Russia, but also in the majority of the former Soviet states. At one level there are several counties where people may say that a similar pattern has been followed. At another level, there are counties such as Iran, which is an illiberal democracy--and it is the most democratic country in the Muslim Middle East--and yet I think there is some evidence that the experience of democratic, or quasi-democratic, rule has created pressures for liberalism. I have to confess I find that argument intriguing but ultimately unpersuasive, and I have reformulated some of my views on Iran.

How should illiberal democracies or liberal autocracies he approached hy the United States or other international powers?

Let me give you another example that ties into this issue of how things have changed. When General Pervez Musharraf took power in Pakistan, there was widespread denunciation of him in just about every major American publication. They said this was not good, that this was a kind of hijacking of democracy. What is interesting is that the press in Pakistan, which is reasonably free, reacted very differently. It was by and large in favor of the coup because they believed the democracy they had was a sham. When George Bush, as you remember, was running for US president, he was asked who was the new leader of Pakistan, and he did not remember the name, but he said he was a general and would add some stability to the region. The Washington Post took it upon itself to declare that the real scandal was not that Bush did not know Musharaf's name, but that he had the gall to say Musharraf would bring order. Now, two years later, I think it is clear that Musharraff has been extraordinarily brave and courageous, a reformi st in almost every dimension- economic, political, religious, cultural-and that he was able to do so because he was not victim to the same short-term interests that modern politicians have to deal with.

The Middle East presents the dilemma that Pakistan faced because in many of these countries there are large segments of the population that are 11liberal and often violent and extreme. To hope that liberalism will come by throwing open the democratic process to these elements seems absurd. Over a long maturation process perhaps this will happen, but another question you have to ask is whether you want every country to go through its own version of the French Revolution and the Terror so that then you can achieve liberal democracy. Or is there some better path? People like Musharraf would say that in troubled societies, there are other paths as well.

What are the policy approaches the United States or International Monetary Fund (IMF) should take?

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