Freedom's hour has arrived.
Despite a century marred by tyrants, holocausts, and wars, human
freedom has made historic strides during the past 100 years. Some
analysts are calling the 1900s the "Democratic Century."
Just look at the evidence.
*One hundred years ago, the dominant forms of government were
monarchies and empires. Hundreds of millions lived under tyrannical
rule. Today, the last colonies are gone. So are the empires.
*In 1900, not a single country allowed women to vote. Not even
the United States. Today, 62 percent of all nations - with 3.4
billion people - enjoy universal suffrage.
*For centuries, governments - not the people - tightly regulated
information. Today, radio and the Internet are undercutting
authoritarian controls, and speeding the flow of news and e-mail,
even to remote corners of the world.
Everything's not perfect on the freedom front, of course.
Countries like China, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea still deny
citizens some basic rights. Other nations, like Singapore, are
paragons of economic freedom, but fall short in other liberties.
In fact, civil libertarians like Human Rights Watch slap the US
on the back of the hand for its failures. For example, Watch
criticizes the US - with the world's largest prison population - for
the "brutal" tactics of prison guards and police.
The US is also chastised for locking up hundreds of thousands of
people (mostly minorities) for nonviolent drug crimes, and for use
of the death penalty, even against juveniles. Only four other
nations execute juveniles: Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Saudi
Yet overall, optimism prevails. Two recent studies have detailed
the tremendous expansion of human rights around the world. One
report was from Freedom House, a nonpartisan organization dedicated
to promoting democracy; the other by the Heritage Foundation, a
conservative think tank.
Freedom House, based in New York City, surveys the worldwide
status of political and civil liberties every year. Its newest
Eighty-five nations are now "free," meaning that they have
universal suffrage, maintain political and economic freedom, and
respect basic civil liberties. Of these, 27 are ranked as the most
free, including the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand,
Austria, Belize, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Finland, and the
Fifty-nine nations are rated "partly free," meaning that
liberties are often marred by corruption, weak rule of law, ethnic
strife, or civil war. Among those nations are Nicaragua, Brazil,
Mexico, Indonesia, Jordan, Venezuela, Russia, Turkey, and Malaysia.
Forty-eight nations are rated "not free," meaning that their
people are denied basic political rights and civil liberties. …