The Future Of Freedom

By Phar Kim Beng
Strategic Pan Indo-Pacific Arena
Twitter: @indo_pan

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Excellent books are hard to come by. Either they are too wordy, or, too pretentious. “The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad” written by Fareed Zakaria, who holds a BA degree in History from Yale University, and a Ph.D. in Political Science at Harvard University, managed to strike a delicate balance between both feats. The book is filled with anecdotes yet historically well researched.

Who would have known that Constantinople was chosen as capital of the Byzantium Empire in order to free itself from the encumbrances of the Roman Catholic Church? Indeed, who would have realized, then, as it is now, that freedom, like all items in life, comes from a perpetual struggle with those that tried to control and curtail it? The move from Constantinople, while not necessarily the “start” of the history of freedom, formed a useful canvass for Fareed Zakaria to start his wonderful narrative. In his word, the “story of freedom” had to start somewhere.

Whether it is empirically sound or not, the gist of Fareed Zakaria’s book laid in its exposition on how freedom is something that has to be fought, defended, and clarified, within the context of “constitutional liberalism”, based on separation of powers, checks and balances, and a proper regard for life, liberty and property. Freedom, in other words, does not just arrive at the doorstep. It has to evolve through many phases of struggle and competing narratives, of which the example set by the United States, for example, formed one of the key templates.

Predictably, Fareed Zakaria warned that the book was written with American democracy in mind; especially the unfettered freedom that has been confused with full democracy. As late as the 19th century, for example, only 20 percent of Americans were legitimate to vote. Come 2016, the American democracy is still beset with many problems, with the votes in Arizona or Wyoming easily out-weighing the importance of the votes in California or Florida. In such a democracy, little regard is given to the importance of placing important safeguards and improving its democratic features continuously.

“The Future of Freedom” also warned ahead of time that mere elections alone cannot satisfy the demands of democracy. Freedom must be accompanied by an informed citizenry too. More importantly, there are already forces at work, to remove many social constraints and corsets. The consumer culture, of treating the “consumer” as King, has made the consumer more aware of his or her own power. The economic culture, too, has loosened its stranglehold, with many more people able to own their homes and cars in the 21st century, as opposed to only a minute elite in the 19th century and earlier. Politically, there has also been a greater demand for accountability and transparency. All these forces point to the arrival of a more promising future.

Yet, precisely because the politicians do not want more powers to slip away from themselves, checks and balances were installed to deny the leaders at the helm. Checks and balances, in other words, had become filibuster ready to burst at the stream, especially during periods where partisanship rose high.



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