December 18, 2003


The twilight of the tyrants: Dictatorship is fading, but democracy doesn't always replace it. (Peter Ford, 12/19/03, CS Monitor)

Unseating the autocrats who remain, however, from Cuba to North Korea, from Saudi Arabia to Burma, poses policy challenges that the United States and other democracies are only beginning to face, say diplomats, human rights activists, and analysts.

Terrorized by secret police and paralyzed by fear, subject peoples often find it hard - if not impossible - to shake off their burden. "But if people were allowed to voice their views, the dictators would not stay, and in that sense they are very fragile," points out Mark Palmer, a former US ambassador who advocates a more activist Western policy to oust tyrants.

"The last 30 years of history shows that they go fairly easily when people start to get organized," he adds, pointing to leaders such as Slobodan Milosevic, who stepped down as President of Yugoslavia in 2000 without a shot being fired.

One quarter of the world's 192 nations are today "not free," down from 43 per cent of countries in 1973, according to a report released yesterday by Freedom House, a New York-based human rights group that has been measuring political rights worldwide for 30 years.

"Absolute dictatorship is becoming less and less common," says Adrian Karatnycky, author of the report. "Over the last 30 years, 45 [more] free countries have appeared on the global map."

Significantly, he adds, today when new countries are created, as in East Timor, or when nation builders step in, as in Bosnia, "the model everyone turns to is democracy. There is no question of forming a one-party state" as was the fashion in newly independent countries four decades ago.

On the other hand, the conditions that feed autocracy persist in many parts of the world. "Apart from residual communism," argues Bernard Kouchner, the former United Nations administrator in Kosovo, "there are two sources of dictatorship: extreme poverty and oil."

Almost all the energy-rich nations in the Middle East and Central Asia figure on Freedom House's list as among the least free in the world. At the same time, 37 of the 49 "not free" countries have an average per capita income of less than $1,500 a year. The group makes its list on the basis of characteristics such as the vibrancy of civil society, the independence of the media, and the fairness of elections.

Galling for conservatives to acknowledge, but obvious once you look at the American Revolution: taxes make us free. That is to say, the need for government to ask for our tax dollars allows us to discipline and hold accountable that government.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 18, 2003 8:01 PM

That's a good way of looking at it. Another is that in countries where the mineral rights are worth more than the surplus over bare subsistence that the population is able to generate, governments will fall into the hands of gangsters.

Posted by: Steve Sailer at December 19, 2003 1:17 AM

Mr. Judd;

I think the lesson is that liberty is strongly enhanced by the need of a government both for taxes and the necessity of citizen approval for those taxes. I've even come up with a handy sound bite to express it: 'No taxation without representation!'.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at December 19, 2003 11:55 AM

Minerals, sure, but also drugs, as in Afghanistan and the narco-terrorists of South America... But Russia is also run by gangsters, and that's a fairly industrialized, modern country with many economic inputs.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at December 19, 2003 12:21 PM


But the more difficult notion is that without taxation there is no representation.

Posted by: oj at December 19, 2003 12:22 PM

True, Michael, but minerals covers the gap in Russia between consumption and production.

See Charles Beard stand on his head!

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 19, 2003 3:49 PM