Global Freedom Is Losing Ground
Not that it’s surprising after a year of lockdowns, travel restrictions, and emergency powers, but the world is becoming less free. A new report says that pandemic-era authoritarianism is an acceleration of a pre-existing trend rather than a new phenomenon. For years, liberal democracy has been losing ground, not just in the way governments treat their subjects, but also in the favor of the public at large.
“As a lethal pandemic, economic and physical insecurity, and violent conflict ravaged the world in 2020, democracy’s defenders sustained heavy new losses in their struggle against authoritarian foes, shifting the international balance in favor of tyranny,” Freedom House, an 80-year old watchdog group, announced in a report published this week. “These withering blows marked the 15th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. The countries experiencing deterioration outnumbered those with improvements by the largest margin recorded since the negative trend began in 2006.”
Based on an assessment of 25 political rights and civil liberties including political pluralism, freedom of expression, and personal autonomy, Freedom House’s report finds dwindling numbers of countries qualifying as “Free,” stagnation in the numbers of those rated “Partly Free,” and an increase in those assessed as “Not Free.”
While struggling democracies and overtly authoritarian states take the worst hits in the rankings, established democracies do poorly, too. “Over the past 10 years, the United States’ aggregate Freedom in the World score has declined by 11 points, placing it among the 25 countries that have suffered the largest declines in this period.” The chaos of the Trump years plays a big role and is emphasized in the report, but America’s shift toward authoritarianism began before the last president took office.
Freedom House isn’t the only organization to see freedom eroding internationally. While less dramatic, the Human Freedom Index 2020, co-published in December by the Cato Institute and Canada’s Fraser Institute, also reports that “the level of global freedom has decreased slightly” since 2008 based on data through 2018. We’ll have to wait to see how pandemic-era actions affect the findings.
Even more troubling is that governments aren’t necessarily swimming against public opinion when they become authoritarian—they’re doing so as thei
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