Why does Zakaria think the number of governments that can be categorized as illiberal democracies are increasing?

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A central argument of Zakaria's book is that, contrary to common wisdom, democracy in itself is not necessarily a good or desirable type of government. What matters is the type of democracy, or democratic system, that exists. A government can be elected by the people, but this does not mean...

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A central argument of Zakaria's book is that, contrary to common wisdom, democracy in itself is not necessarily a good or desirable type of government. What matters is the type of democracy, or democratic system, that exists. A government can be elected by the people, but this does not mean it will be a liberal government, one that protects human rights and acts in accordance with the rule of law. Zakaria points out that Hitler, for example, was democratically elected, yet Nazi Germany was probably more desctructive of the rule of law and of human rights than any other state in the twentieth century. At the same time, an authoritarian state, Zakaria says, can be a liberal one, governing according to principles that protect social and property rights and exercising a benign attitude towards the population. Prior to the twentieth century (and even for the most part before the end of World War II) the countries of Western Europe were governed more or less by liberal principles, but they were not democracies.

Why, then, do illiberal democracies exist and flourish, especially in our own time? Here is where, according to Zakaria, elements outside the specific realm of a governmental system come into play: economic factors, for instance. Without a stable economy as its basis, a state that has an elected government may not have the capacity to insure the protection of rights, the just rule of law, and the other elements of liberalism and progressivism.There is also a question of whether the system of "checks and balances" is workable in a given country and under existing conditions. Those countries not already having in place an existing establishment, or tradition, of such a balanced system in which power is not centrally consolidated, but is spread among different institutions—including the legislature and the courts—have greater difficulty adhering to liberal principles. And even in countries like the U.S. with such a tradition (although also with, as Zakaria points out, the huge exception of slavery in the past and continuing racial inequality) it is still possible for liberalism to unravel.

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Zakaria is attempting to take seriously the prescient concerns of Alexis de Tocqueville, who observed how democracy could contain the seeds of its own destruction. Zakaria argues that democracies can only succeed over the long term when grounded in constitutionalism and the rule of law, which act as bulwarks against the sort of populism that can result in a "tyranny of the majority" or other forms of illiberalism.

For Zakaria, there are several different forms of the rise of illiberal democracy. The first derives from democracy being imposed from the outside by colonial powers or wealthy nations. In this case, there is no real liberal democracy in existence but simply the window-dressing of elections, often rigged, intended to legitimize fundamentally non-democratic governments. When wealthy donor nations insist on democratic reforms, this can lead to such democratic window dressing or an illiberal democracy.

Another type of illiberal democracy is one in which there is a gradual shift from liberal to illiberal due to weak institutions easily captured by a rent-seeking class of wealthy and powerful oligarchs. Zakaria is concerned that even in countries such as the United States and those of Western Europe, increasing democratization and weakening of institutional checks and balances and limits to technocracy in response to populism can result in a diminution of freedom. Zakaria, interestingly, argues that at times democracy can be inherently illiberal because its substitutes a pure will of the majority for constitutionally enshrined protections of liberty. Thus for Zakaria, over time democracies tend towards illiberality.

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I think that Zakaria would suggest that nations are seeking to radically transform themselves into liberal democracies because the concept is seen as intrinsically good without questioning whether the conditions in a particular nation will lend themselves to it.  For Zakaria, when nations automatically adopt liberal democracy without sustaining and developing the conditions that lend legitimacy to it, they become "illiberal."  They become this because the nation can easily revert back to authoritarian strains without hesitation as democracy has not been able to take an authentic hold and root in that political setting.  Zakaria might suggest that the current situation in Syria is a reflection of this.  al- Assad is able to claim to represents the voice of the people with his 97% vote when he is elected.  It is safe to say now that he is about as far from democratic as one could get.  Similar to this, Zakaria might suggest that the liberal democratic government is increasing as the government "du jour" around the world because it is believed to be a unique good.  For Zakaria, the real test of the legitimacy of a democratic setting is whether the economic and social conditions have been established in order to lend it legitimacy.  In this, I think that he feels the number of governments claiming to be "democratic" might represent why illiberal democracies are increasing.

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