DEMOCRACY IN RETREAT by Joshua Kurlantzick


The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline of Representative Government
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Think democracy’s the up-and-coming thing in the developing world? This book may shatter more than few illusions of free markets and polities.

Council on Foreign Relations fellow Kurlantzick (The Ideal Man: The Tragedy of Jim Thompson and the American Way of War, 2011, etc.) recommends a second look at places like Russia, China and Mexico, where democracy seems to be in rapid decline. The neoliberal line for the last quarter-century has in the main been that of Francis Fukuyama, whose influential book The End of History and the Last Man (1992) posited that the West’s triumph over communism meant “that liberal democracy, combined with market economics, represented the direction in which the world would inevitably evolve.” Indeed, authoritarian regimes such as Thailand—a favorite Kurlantzick case study—as well as Russia and China seemed to be headed in that very direction, but no more. For various reasons, those regimes have retrenched: The Chinese leadership retains a tight grip on both society and the economy, while in Russia, Vladimir Putin seems to have tossed the whole democratic experiment under the bus. As for the rest of the world—well, Kurlantzick holds that nine of the 13 nations that most deteriorated politically between 2008 and 2010 are to be found in sub-Saharan Africa, while Central Asia and chunks of South America aren’t looking too good, either. The so-called Arab Spring is still unfolding but not showing terrific promise. Kurlantzick offers counsel on how to steer the world onto the right course, which, perhaps paradoxically, involves letting it find its own way or at least asking the West (and particularly America) to show a little humility while waiting for it to come around. Other useful nuggets: Separate out the work of the police and the army, which is not always the case in the developing world; take pains not to “shun nondemocratic partners,” such as Saudi Arabia, that may be on the path to becoming democratic; and respect whomever it is who has won a fair election—“if they play fair,” that is.

International-policy wonks will find much of interest, and Francis Fukuyama might want to consider updating his good book in light of it.

Pub Date: March 19th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-300-17538-7
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2013


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