Fill out the brief form below for access to the free report.
A Look at the State of Freedom Around the World
This year marks the 41st edition of Freedom in the World. At the time the report was launched, in 1972, there was reason for concern about the condition of freedom. Democracy seemed to be in retreat, and the world’s democratic powers were mired in doubt and confusion.
The state of freedom reached its nadir in 1975, when 40 countries, just 25 percent of the world’s independent states, were ranked as Free, compared with 65 countries, or 41 percent, ranked as Not Free. At that point in history, the democratic universe was restricted to Western Europe, North America, and a few other scattered locales.
During the next quarter-century, freedom experienced an unprecedented period of progress. By 2000, the number of countries designated as Free had surged to 86, or 45 percent of the total, while the number of Not Free states had declined to 48, or 25 percent. The Middle East remained the only major part of the world that had been untouched by democracy’s growth.
Since then, the state of freedom has been situated somewhere between stagnation and decline. While few of the countries that moved toward democracy in the previous decades retreated into authoritarianism, the march of freedom has met with a wall of resistance in three major settings: China, Eurasia, and the Middle East.
And while the ideologies of authoritarian powers vary considerably, their leaders form alliances in order to advance common goals. They have studied how other dictatorships were destroyed and are bent on avoiding a similar fate. They collaborate to sustain some of the world’s most reprehensible regimes, as in Syria, where Russia, China, Iran, and Venezuela have offered diplomatic support, loans, fuel, or military aid to the Assad regime.
In an earlier period, it was the United States and its allies that were the guarantors of political change. Self-assured and optimistic, they provided the material resources and diplomatic muscle that tipped the balance towards freedom movements and new democracies. Unfortunately, the American government has failed to recognize the historic moment that presents itself today.
It is noteworthy that those who have joined the struggle for change in Egypt, Tunisia, and Bahrain are not chanting in praise of the “China Dream” or issuing appeals to Vladimir Putin. America may not be the most popular country in the Middle East, but desire for the democratic benefits it enjoys lies at the heart of the ongoing uprising in the Arab world and elsewhere.
The democratic world was experiencing a period of self-absorption much like today’s when Freedom House launched Freedom in the World. Once it had overcome its crisis of confidence, America helped propel a historic surge of democratization in parts of the world where self-government was almost unknown. But if there is no reassertion of American leadership, we could well find ourselves at some future time deploring lost opportunities rather than celebrating a major breakthrough for freedom.
Arch Puddington, a George W. Bush Institute fellow in human freedom, is vice president for research at Freedom House.
Image by Serenity Ibsen
Two-Minute Take: Link Between Freedom and This Week's Top Headlines
Bush Institute's Lindsay Lloyd points out a common thread in the top news headlines this week, including the escalating conflict between the United States and Iran.
South Park Was Right — About China’s Censorship
As recent events have shown, the Chinese Communist Party will suppress anyone’s freedom, including those of us in the United States and elsewhere, to maintain their grip on power and keep the democracy genie in the bottle.
Why Should the U.S. Be Supporting Democracy Abroad?
In light of recent protests in Hong Kong, Human Freedom expert Chris Walsh shares how the U.S. can supporting democracy abroad.
The Uighurs—China’s Persecuted Minority
Bob Fu was a leader in the student democracy movement at Tiananmen Square in 1989, a Christian pastor and founder of an underground church in China, and former Chinese prisoner of conscience. We spoke with him about the Uighurs— a Turkic people in Central and East Asia.