Democracy in retreat: Experts discuss the global state of freedom

In 2018, Freedom in the World , released by Freedom House, recorded the 13th consecutive year of in decline global freedom. The reversal has spanned a variety of countries in every region, from long-standing democracies like the United States to consolidated authoritarian regimes like China and Russia. The overall losses are still shallow compared with the gains of the late 20th century, but the pattern is consistent and ominous. Democracy is in retreat.

Challenges to American democracy are testing the stability of its constitutional system and threatening to undermine political rights and civil liberties worldwide, contributing to a decline in global freedom for the 13th consecutive year. Over the past 13 years, a total of 116 countries have seen a net decline in their democracy scores, while only 63 have seen a net improvement.

A total of 68 countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties during 2018, with only 50 registering gains. Freedom House’s global survey shows that ethnic cleansing is a growing trendwhile a growing number of governments are targeting expatriates far beyond their borders.  Antiliberal leaders’ verbal attacks on the media contributed to broader declines in press freedom — and growing violence against journalists.

In states that were already authoritarian, earning Not Free designations from Freedom House, governments have increasingly shed the thin façade of democratic practice that they established in previous decades, when international incentives and pressure for reform were stronger. More authoritarian powers are now banning opposition groups or jailing their leaders, dispensing with term limits, and tightening the screws on any independent media that remain.

Meanwhile, many countries that democratized after the end of the Cold War have regressed in the face of rampant corruption, antiliberal populist movements, and breakdowns in the rule of law.

Some light shined through these gathering clouds in 2018. Surprising improvements in individual countries—including Malaysia, Armenia, Ethiopia, Angola, and Ecuador—show that democracy has enduring appeal as a means of holding leaders accountable and creating the conditions for a better life.

Even in the countries of Europe and North America where democratic institutions are under pressure, dynamic civic movements for justice and inclusion continue to build on the achievements of their predecessors, expanding the scope of what citizens can and should expect from democracy. The promise of democracy remains real and powerful. Not only defending it but broadening its reach is one of the great causes of our time.

For Local News and Immediate Delivery, download our Android App