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Is Democratic Government in Decline?

Author: Joshua Kurlantzick, Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia
December 12, 2012
Asia Sentinel


Joshua Kurlantzick's new book, The Decline of Democracy, to be published soon by Yale University Press, revolves around a disturbing thesis: that after a steady increase in the number of democracies in the world for nearly a century, autocratic rule is on the march. With Kurlantzick's permission, Asia Sentinel presents this excerpt from what can be expected to be a profoundly unsettling work.

When viewed against the entire expanse of the 20th and 21st Centuries, or against even longer periods of human history, the world today appears to be highly democratic. At the start of the 20th Century, only a tiny fraction of the countries in the world could have been called true democracies.

Nearly all of these democracies were in Western Europe, North America, and the former overseas territories of the British Empire. Together they constituted no more than one- tenth of the world's population. Empires ruled much of Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Even as recently as 1988, before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, a small minority of the world's people lived under democracy; Central Asia and Eastern Europe had no democracies, and sub-Saharan Africa had virtually no true democracies as well.

Compared with those bleak periods, the number of democracies in the early 21st Century seems like a great advance. Many African nations have made the beginnings of a transition to democratic rule, and real democracy is increasingly entrenched in Eastern Europe, the Baltics, and many parts of East Asia.

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