Friday, June 3, 2011

Planet Burma

by Jesse Walker


June 3, 2011

"Around the globe, it is democratic meltdowns, not democratic revolutions, that are now the norm." Or so claims Joshua Kurlantzick, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations writing in the June 9 New Republic. From Venezuela to Russia, he argues, regimes are sliding toward autocratic rule. Polls show public opinion turning against self-government. Freedom House, which issues annual reports on the worldwide state of democracy, says we've been heading in the wrong direction for half a decade. "The other countries were supposed to change Burma," one activist tells Kurlantzick. "Now it seems like they are becoming like Burma."

It's a dramatic story, but it isn't really accurate. We aren't on the road to Planet Burma. More likely, we're witnessing freedom's growing pains.

Kurlantzick does make some valid points. Some countries have suffered setbacks in the last few years. Surveys in several places do show a middle-class disillusionment with democracy, and such results do complicate the common assumption that popular wealth inevitably leads to louder demands for popular power. Above all, he's right that we shouldn't assume increases in freedom are irreversible and unstoppable. No social trend is inevitable. You gain liberty by winning it, not by waiting for it to fall into place.