Who Sets the Standard for Democracy?
To the Editor:
Michael Riley's article "Latin America's Tide of Semidemocracy" [December 1999, p. 60] gives a helpful overview of the state of democracy in Central and South America, pointing out that its roots may not go very deep. My concern is not with any details of his analysis but with the question: What is a healthy democracy? Judgments such as those of Mr. Riley or of Freedom House--which classifies countries as free, partly free, or unfree--are made against the standard of an implicit answer to that question.
Perhaps most people think they know what that answer is. I suspect, however, that many simply consider the United States as the standard without thinking about the question too deeply. In fact, how healthy is democracy in the United States? While the threat of a military coup such as that experienced last March in Paraguay may be distant in the United States, there are other, more subtle threats.
The increasing influence of money in the political process has increased the power of corporations and organizations with specialized interests at the expense of general citizens. …