A British journalist examines our disposition to surrender freedoms in return for security and prosperity.
When the Berlin Wall fell 20 years ago and the Soviet Union imploded shortly thereafter, the future seemed bright for liberal democracies. After a year spent interviewing politicos, journalists, intellectuals and regular folks in eight countries, former New Statesman editor Kampfner (Blair’s Wars, 2004, etc.) submits an alarming report about the limits of our fealty to liberty and about how democratic involvement has not necessarily accompanied the creation of globalized wealth. The past two decades have witnessed the rise of authoritarian capitalism in nations like Singapore, where civil liberties are nonexistent and the populace, soothed by material comforts, refuses to rock the boat. In China the Communist Party uses opinion polls and focus groups to gauge the public mood and shudders to submit their economic miracle and the stability of their state to the vote of 800-million illiterate peasants. Russia’s regime has delivered just enough political stability and economic growth to appease a public resigned to the skimming of oil wealth by the “gold-digging elite” and the criminal underworld. The United Arab Emirates, busy building pleasure domes for tourists, cuts deals with Western governments and academic institutions that turn a blind eye to the ruling families’ repression of their subjects. In India the forms of democracy are observed, but globalization’s abundance has yet to trickle down to the vast majority of citizens. Most alarming, perhaps, is the author’s report from Britain and America, where in the wake of 9/11 citizens have permitted a diminution of civil liberties in exchange for promises of security. Will the worldwide economic downturn force any reconsideration of what’s been sacrificed during the drive for prosperity and swapped for illusions of safety? Not if—as Kampfner chillingly demonstrates—even in so-called free societies, our impulse to willingly obey appears to exceed our professed devotion to liberty.
Sophisticated reporting full of unsettling revelations.