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I am a republican, not a Republican!

I am a republican, not a Republican! I am a Democrat, not a democrat! These are my conclusions from reading Fareed Zakaria’s, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad. Fareed Zakaria is the host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS, where he is a strong proponent of human rights, Anglo-style freedom of the press and democratic rule.

Throughout the book’s 270 pages, Mr. Zakaria makes the surprising argument that elections and democracy may not be the panacea for the woes of the developing world. In fact, in his comparison of China and Russia today he says, “Today, Russia is a freer country than China … [however] … If economic development and a middle class are keys to sustaining democracy, China is moving in the right direction.” (page 91) This comment borders on blasphemy to religion of democracy he advocates on television.

Now, I started by saying that I am a republican and not a democrat, this may seem counterintuitive, but to understand you must first understand the meaning of the two which are often conflated. A republic is a state governed by a representative (typically elected) body. What is meant by democracy in this context is a state governed by the people. In the most extreme case one could see a state governed entirely by referendums. Of course the latter would seem to be more in keeping with the idea of “people power” or “ኣወት ንሃፋሽ” (Awet n’hafash, Victory to the Masses), but of course I would argue that this is not accurate. In fact it may be precisely true, but misses the point, after all the function is to give the people the ability to choose those who make the decisions because they have other duties to attend to.

Consider the average American voter (a misnomer in fact as it seems the average American cannot be bothered to vote), wants social programs such as public education, efficient government service and safe public infrastructure. This doesn’t seem too much to ask from one’s government, however, in America it seems that this should be provided free of charge (sans tax). This has led to government services being mediocre at best, and reinforced the idea developed in 1970’s that government was the problem. In fact, this was the now familiar refrain of Ronald Reagan, and one of the many reasons that I say in the title, “I am … not a Republican!”

Of course, this is also one of the points of Fareed and as mentioned above, ironically he suggests that the problem is the “democratization of politics.” (page 166) But perhaps the true problem with the democratization of politics is the lack of leadership. In fact Mr. Zakaria says, “The American people have watched their leaders bow and scrape before them for the last three decades – and they are repulsed by it. Perhaps they sense that this is not what democracy is about.” (page 167) And finally he channels John Kennedy, “The voters selected us because they had confidence in our judgement …” (page 169) All these building the case for a shepherd leading the herd to greener  pastures instead of the sheep pointing the shepherd towards the greener pastures.

Perhaps this is the key message of Fareed’s book, we ought to yield to our leaders judgement, after all we chose them. We ought to not give them unquestionable power, but the fruits of our labor will not be evident immediately, especially for what is truly important. Our leaders should be professional decision-makers, weighing the choices while we go about building our own lives. Just as we would not execute a war on our enemies from our armchairs, we should not pretend that governance is too a part-time affair.

Is this book worth a read? Absolutely, in fact, anyone interested in the future of governance and of the developing world should read this book. Let me know what you think of this book!

The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad

Published inBook Reviews