Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

Related Post Roulette

34 Responses

  1. Avatar trumwill says:

    My first thought was… it’s amazing how much worse Russia flipping makes it look. After reading the excerpts on the link, my next thought was how volatile the really small countries seem to be. 56 changed categories but it’s harder than Where’s Waldo to find more than half of them. My third thought… how about that Mongolia!Report

  2. Avatar John Howard Griffin says:

    Shouldn’t the conservatives complaining about socialism and Democrats, and the liberals complaining about the War and Bradley Manning and Republicans, and the libertarians complaining about the mandate and Republicans and Democrats all be complaining that the U.S.A. should REALLY be colored pink on the map?Report

  3. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I look at the map and think of how much of it would have been red back in the late 70s.Report

  4. Avatar Creon Critic says:

    Will, a few thoughts. A three categorizations map of freedom in the world is a pretty limited construct for making world-historical judgments about where and when a “stable equilibrium” has been reached. Given the succession crises of authoritarian regimes, I’d hardly call them bulwarks of international peace and security when compared to the potential for botched democratizations. Perhaps the democratizations are difficult precisely because the authoritarian regimes mask, for a limited time, problems bubbling under the surface, like corruption, massive inequality, or a poorly functioning state sector. After the autocrat is gone the democratizers are left to pick up the pieces.

    Second, lies, damned lies, and maps? The time period selected for presenting this information could do a lot to buttress or undermine arguments about who’s supposedly eligible for successful democratization. Imagine comparing maps covering a longer time period, one could make a number of generalizations about democratization, certain cultures couldn’t do democracy, certain levels of literacy or economic development were required for democracy, etc., etc., and one would be thoroughly wrong. Democratizations past, present, and future, perhaps they’re all hard cases?

    The prize of successful democratization, positive peace amongst democracies, makes the further difficulties worth the effort.Report

    • Avatar Will says:

      This is a great comment, and I will respond. Right now, however, I’m eating dinner.Report

    • Avatar Will says:

      To clarify, I don’t think self-government is impossible in the Middle East or Central Asia, just that the transition period will inevitably be longer and more difficult in regions that haven’t had much exposure to the West’s cultural and political traditions.

      I think your point about earlier generalizations is a good one – a generation ago, plenty of folks would have told you that the Iberian peninsula or Eastern Europe were fundamentally unsuited to liberal governance. That said, I don’t think this mistake means cultural analysis always misses the mark. First, Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean remain on the European periphery and are more prone to backsliding than, say, the Anglo-American core. I’m fairly confident that Greece and Spain will remain stable, prosperous, and democratic for the foreseeable future, but recent events suggest that’s a shakier proposition than anybody would have imagined five or ten years ago. Second, I think earlier judgments about culture were colored by racial assumptions that don’t really factor into contemporary accounts like Electing to Fight (which I recommend reading if you’re into this stuff).

      In the long term, I do believe that liberal democratic governments are better equipped to handle economic and cultural pathologies than autocrats, but this of course assumes a successful transition to mature, liberal democratic governance. I actually think immature democratic governments can be more prone to violent outbursts than their autocratic counterparts, largely because the political establishment has such a tenuous hold on power and because the electorate is prone to latch onto irresponsible leaders.

      As for the democratic peace theory, I remain skeptical. I’d note that the number of actual democracies has been extremely low until recently, which means we haven’t had much opportunity to actually test this hypothesis. Moreover, most of the major democracies (I’m thinking here of the United States and Western Europe) share important cultural bonds that may function as a firebreak to real conflict. Finally, I’d note that the major democracies were bound together in the face of outside pressure until recently (World War II and later, the Cold War), which creates an element of solidarity that might not exist later on.Report

  5. Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

    Excluding political correctness, diversity, et al how does the ability of a people/nation to capture some aspect of liberty relate to their race/ethnicity? Is it a question of race, ethnicity, religion, geography, history or some combination? I would like to read some analysis of this phenomenon, or at least some thoughtful comments.Report

    • Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:

      Try reading Guns, Germs, and steel by Jared Diamond.

      It isn’t exactly what you are asling for but it is very close and should be enough to get you to a place where you can figure it out yourself.Report

    • Avatar Will says:

      Culture and historical factors are pretty important – I don’t think countries or communities develop the essential precursors for liberal governance overnight. I’ve read Diamond, and I suppose he would argue that culture is an epiphenomenon related to the geographic and agricultural factors he talks about, which I think is plausible. The racial component is pretty bogus, though. A few generations ago, plenty of folks seemed to think that Eastern Europeans were inherently unsuited for responsible self-government. Now we’ve got a guy named Kuznicki railing about the Constitution on this very blog.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      Guns Germs and Steel is overrated in this regard – it explains well why peoples from Eurasia conquered those in Africa, the Americas, and Australia starting in 1500 and not vice versa, but doesn’t have a lot to say why Europeans conquered various people from the Indus Valley to the East China Sea, and not vice versa. (nor really anything at all about post 1500 and particularly post Industrial Revolution pattern of development – for example Japan is, at the first order, as mountainous and islandish as Papua New Guinea)Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Odd, I recall him explaining it to my satisfaction for the Far East at least. He posited that geography enabled the presence of strongly centralized governments in those regions allowed for a single authority to halt technological advances by decree. The Chinese Emperor for instance squashed the rise of water powered looms centuries before the Europeans were even scratching at the idea of it or consider the fate of the China Fleet. In Europe by contrast the innovator who’d fallen from the favor of the local ruler would just skip across the mountains to the next state over. Columbus, for instance, was turned down by his first choice and ended up being sponsored by Spain.Report

        • Avatar Kolohe says:

          I agree that in 1500 Europe had the right balance between fractiousness and coherence to enable the rise of (what is now the default) political entity of the nation-state, (and the age of sail empires which lasted until WW2) while China was too unified and nearly all the rest of the world was too isolated, too underpopulated, and/or too fractious.

          I disagree that this is an inevitibility of geography – Europe (read – the Mediterranean world) was pretty darn unified for a period of close to 5 centuries. (A snapshot of 250 CE would show it arguably *more* unified than China). That Europe was in a ‘goldilocks’ political unity level in 1500 was an accident of history and timing. “China” has similarly oscillated between times of feudalism, protacted wars, and unity, peace&prosperity. And of course, linguistically, the native tongues of Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong are as different as those of Madrid, Paris, and Rome.Report

      • Japan is a poor comparison to New Guinea. New Guinea’s mountains are much, much larger than those in Japan, where passes between even the most remote regions are seldom over 500 meters above sea level. Furthermore, New Guinea is round; Japan is long and thin. The country has arguably the world’s richest fisheries, and its economy has always been centered on the coast. Both the geography and the climate of the Seto Naikai, the cradle of Japanese Civilization, are often compared to the Mediterranean. The country is in close proximity to Korea, China, and Okinawa. I think Diamond’s framework holds up strongly in the case of Japan.Report

        • Avatar Kolohe says:

          Vietnam, then, is also long and thin, the economy centered on the coast, has some of the richest fisheries in the world – and unlike Japan, wasn’t able to keep Europeans from taking over for a time in the age of empires.Report

          • I don’t really know much about Vietnam, but what I do know doesn’t seem to invalidate Diamond’s thesis: Vietnam has long been a satellite of China and other regional powers; Western hold over the country was always tenuous and violent.Report

          • Avatar Jeremy B says:

            You’re missing the point about Diamond.
            He doesn’t say that geography determined destiny on a scale of individual countries. He pointed out that on a global scale, the Europe-Asia axis from Ireland to Japan was uniquely suited for transmission of cultural developments, allowing all countries within that region access to things like agriculture, the wheel, domestic animals, etc.
            This gave countries along that axis a head start over places like Peru, Greenland, South Africa or New Guinea, which were geographically blocked from access to those developments and therefor developed more slowly, so that when the Europeans encountered them they ate their lunch (except for Greenland, where the Europeans didn’t do so well at lunching).
            On the nation-scale, other factors can come into play – he talks about tribes in neighboring valleys developing differently because of cultural reasons (eg refusing to adapt new technologies because of taboos).Report

  6. Avatar DMD says:

    My first thought when I saw that map was “Yeah Western Hemisphere!,” but I’m an optimist like that.Report

    • I was thinking about making some kind of clever reference to the Monroe Doctrine, but couldn’t really come up with anything. I’m real curious how this index was formulated though, since I doubt that Russia’s authoritarian grip on speech extends all the way to Kamchatka. Does the change from pink to red really just come down to Matt Taibbi getting kicked out of the country?Report

  7. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    but you’d be hard-pressed to find a region less hospitable to Western political traditions than the Middle East.

    Iran had a functioning democracy until the the CIA overthrew it. Lebanon had a precarious one until the civil war of the 70s.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      I think that’s overstating the case Mike. Iran had a relatively brief window of opportunity to become a democratic constitutional monarchy (which I agree the Americans and British undermined) but they never had a functioning democracy or a history or culture of democracy prior to that. Lebanon is in a similar boat.Report

  8. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    To expand on my comment above, I remember when I was a kid the map being much more red. Much of South and Central America was either banana republics or outright authoritarian dictatorships. Argentina was still dropping dissidents into the ocean from helicopters. Most of Africa was the same. Franco had just died in Spain. All of the Eastern bloc, of course, was a variation on Soviet style repression. I mean, it might sound crazy now, but I remember when people really had no idea if the sort of democracy the US had would last into this century, or if we’d all end up nuking each other. And, even if it did survive, it was believed that very few countries could maintain democracy. So, it’s an improvement anyway.Report

  9. Avatar Jenny says:

    Best not to trust Freedom house maps, Peter ackerman on there is pretty damned sneaky: