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July/August 2019 17

LARRY DIAMOND is a Senior Fellow at the
Hoover Institution and at the Freeman Spogli
Institute for International Studies at Stanford

democracy in Russia. More recently,
Turkish President Recep Tayyip
Erdogan has gone down a similar path.
Elected executives have been the
principal agents o” democratic destruc-
tion in some countries; in others, the
military has. The generals seized
control o” the government in Egypt in
2013 and in Thailand in 2014, and they
continue to wield de facto power in
Myanmar and Pakistan. Across Africa,
the trend has been for elected autocrats,
such as President Uhuru Kenyatta
o• Kenya and President John Magufuli
oÊ Tanzania, to manipulate elections,
subvert independent institutions, and
harass critics and political opponents
to ensure their continued grip on power.
More concerning still is the wave o”
illiberal populism that has been sweeping
developed and developing countries
alike, often in response to anxiety over
immigration and growing cultural
diversity. The harbinger o” this trend
was Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor
Orban, who has presided over the Ãrst
death o” a democracy in an ¥š member
state. Similar trends are under way
in Brazil, the Philippines, and Poland.
Illiberal, xenophobic parties have been
gaining political ground in such hal-
lowed European liberal democracies
as Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands,
and Sweden; one such party made a
serious bid for the presidency o”
France; and another captured a share o”
national power in Italy. In the United
States, an illiberal populist now occupies
the White House.
There are Áickers oÊ hope in places
such as Ethiopia, Malaysia, and Nigeria,
and democracy is hanging on against
the odds in Tunisia and Ukraine. But
overall, the trend is undeniably worri-



How the Freedom Agenda
Fell Apart

Larry Diamond


or three decades beginning in the
mid-1970s, the world experienced
a remarkable expansion o” democ-
racy—the so-called third wave—with
authoritarian regimes falling or reform-
ing across the world. By 1993, a majority
o” states with populations over one
million had become democracies. Levels
o• freedom, as measured by Freedom
House, were steadily rising as well. In
most years between 1991 and 2005,
many more countries gained freedom
than lost it.
But around 2006, the forward momen-
tum o” democracy came to a halt. In every
year since 2007, many more countries
have seen their freedom decrease than
have seen it increase, reversing the post–
Cold War trend. The rule oÊ law has taken
a severe and sustained beating, particu-
larly in Africa and the postcommunist
states; civil liberties and electoral rights
have also been declining.
Adding to the problem, democracies
have been expiring in big and strategi-
cally important countries. Russian
President Vladimir Putin, for example,
has long been using the power granted
to him through elections to destroy


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