Saturday, January 22, 2005

Book Review - The Future of Freedom

The Future of Freedom – Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad by Fareed Zakaria, 2003, W.W. Norton & Company.


In this book esteemed journalist and foreign policy adviser Fareed Zakaria has tackled head on the fundamental problem of the occasionally ungenerous and irrational nature of liberal democracies.

While this dilemma is as old as democracy itself, it is one that is highly pertinent given the current push in Canada to tackle the “democratic deficit”, and the considerable effort being given to reforming our electoral system.

The Indian-born, American educated Zakaria hits his stride when his book turns to a very compelling attack on the currently popular idea, recently fashionable in Canada, of direct democracy.

Using the State of California as a prime example of the failure of direct democracy – he argues that Californians, through implementing direct democracy and related referenda, have created a government that barely works. Instead, Zakaria argues for more traditional “representative” (as opposed to direct) democracy. He argues that the solution to much of society’s current governmental malaise is that we should create even more institutions like the American Federal Reserve Bank that are structured to act in the long term and are insulated from short term pressures.

Of special note to lobbyists, he launches a blistering attack on the profession in his chapter: “Too Much of a Good Thing” – but not for the usual reasons. His argument against lobbyists is that we do too much of a good job for our clients and consequently have substantially contributed to the paralysis and shortsightedness of modern government.

Among his many thought provoking arguments elaborated in the book is his belief that democracies where the per capita GDP is less than $6000 are not stable and that for poorer countries liberal authoritarianism may be a better choice of government than all-out democracy.

Zakaria has produced an eminently readable book on a thought provoking and prescient issue. His ability to present a very contentious and timely polemic in a simple manner while providing empirical backing for his argument should be applauded.