This is the Karlin Freedom Index for 2012, a political classification system I formulated more than a year ago in response to systemic bias on the part of traditional “freedom indices” such as Freedom House and The Economist Democracy Index (hint: they give massive bonus points for neoliberalism and pro-Western foreign policy orientations).
The explanation: Reconciling democracy with liberalism is really hard: since people are illiberal by nature, there is usually a trade-off between the two. The more frequent result is Semi-Liberal Democracy (describes most “Western” countries), which in turn can degenerate into a full-blown Illiberal Democracy (as did Russia around 1993, or the US and Hungary around 2011). Oligarchy is meant in the sense of rule by a few. It should be noted that some legislation ostensibly enacted to protect the public interest, such as libel laws, surveillance laws and anti-terrorist laws – in practice serve more to undermine liberalism. When they go too far, there appear Semi-Authoritarian states of permanent emergency. In the lower rung, Authoritarianism consolidates all political power unto the state (Semi-Authoritarianism tries to, but isn’t as successful). Totalitarianism extends the political realm over all spheres of life, bringing us into the realm of (Viereck’s) Metapolitics.
- Iceland – In the wake of its post-financial crisis constitutional reforms, this small country may claim to have the most direct democracy on Earth.
- California (state government)
- Sweden – Not as high as it might have been due to the politically-motivated prosecution of Assange.
- Czech Republic
Semi-Liberal Democracy (tends to be corrupted by moneyed interests and/or other influential interest groups)
- Canada – A good democracy, but a whiff of a downwards trend under Harper. ↓
- Italy – Not a personalistic regime once Berlusconi left, but not helped by the fact that an appointed technocrat now runs it.
- Brazil – Arbitrary power structures; extra-judicial murders.
- France – Paternalistic; corporatist surveillance state; discrimination against minorities. ↓
- Estonia – Has excellent Internet democracy ideas, but is hampered by discrimination against Russophone minorities.
- Japan – Paternalistic; ultra-high conviction rates; no gun rights; but ceased being an (effectively) one-party state with recent election of DJP. ↑
- Mexico – Drug cartels challenge to the state may lead to curtailment of freedom. ↓
- Switzerland – The last canton only gave women the right to vote in the early 1990’s, and the banning of minarets restricts religious freedom.
- UK – Corporatist surveillance state; repressive libel & PC laws, regulations; no gun rights; strongly trending to Illiberal Democracy. ↓↓
- India – Strong tradition of debate & power diffusion, marred by caste inequalities, privilege, political cliquishness, bottom-up free speech restrictions.
- South Korea – Paternalistic; surveillance state; restrictive regulations, freedom of speech restrictions.
- Colombia – Pursued illiberal policies vs. FARC, but transitioned to a Semi-Liberal Democracy with recent transfer of power. ↑
- Romania ↓
- Argentina – New sweeping media laws bring Argentina close to the bottom of the Semi-Liberal Democracy rankings. ↓
- Ukraine – In “anarchic stasis” since independence; arbitrary power structures; recently trending to Illiberal Democracy. ↓
Illiberal Democracy (tends to feature oligarchies and personalism)
- USA – Highest prison population; corporatist surveillance state; runs transnational Gulag; increasingly arbitrary power structures; despite strong freedom of speech protections and surviving separation of powers, it can no longer be considered a Semi-Liberal Democracy after its formal legalization of indefinite detention under the NDAA 2012. ↓
- Israel – Severe national security-related civil liberties restrictions; growing influence of settler & fundamentalist agendas over the traditional Zionist foundation; severe new NGO laws, and discrimination against Palestinians makes Israel a downwards-trending Illiberal Democracy. ↓
- Hungary – The recent Constitutional reforms in Hungary have effectively ended separation of powers, constrained the media, and established a basis for indefinite one-party dominance. It is now the only EU member to qualify as an Illiberal Democracy. ↓↓
- Russia – Super-presidentialism with no real separation of powers; arbitrary power structures; surveillance state; and as recently shown, elections are subject to moderate fraud. However, new reforms (e.g. opening up of the political space), technical measures (e.g. web cameras at polling stations) and permits for opposition protests at the end of 2011 portend an upwards trend. ↑
- Venezuela – Increasingly illiberal, especially as regards media laws. ↓
- Georgia – Arbitrary power structures; opposition protests broken up; main opposition candidate to Saakashvili stripped of Georgian citizenship.
- Turkey – Maintains severe restrictions on free speech (a country that has the world’s largest number of imprisoned journalists, many under bizarre conspiracy charges, can’t really be any kind of liberal democracy); ethnic discrimination; arbitrary power structures; paradoxically, both authoritarian & liberal principles strengthening under influence of Gulenists & AKP. ↓
Semi-Authoritarianism (tends to feature permanent states of emergency)
- Egypt – Despite the revolutionary upheaval, the military retains wide influence and shoots at protesters in Cairo; this cannot be a democratic state of affairs. The future is uncertain. ?
- Singapore – Overt political repression; repressive laws (esp. on libel); surveillance state.
- Kazakhstan – Overt political repression; Nazarbayev is Caesar.
- Azerbaijan – Overt political repression; Aliyev is Caesar.
- Belarus – Elections completely falsified; overt political repression, and getting worse. ↓
- Iraq – ↓
- Iran – Overt political repression; though Velayat-e faqih has embedded democratic elements (under formal clerical “guardianship), in recent years, the system is strongly trending to Authoritarianism as the IRGC clan tries to wrestle the old clerics out of power. ↓
- China – Overt political repression; no national elections (but exist at village level & in some municipalities); the Internet is restricted by the “Great Firewall”, but print & online getting freer to discuss issues unrelated to a few unacceptable topics (e.g. Communist Party hegemony, Tiananmen, etc); may implement new form of political model of “deliberative dictatorship”; trending towards Semi-Authoritarianism. ↑
- Cuba – Overt political repression; pervasive Internet & media censorship.
- Saudi Arabia – Overt political repression; pervasive censorship; very repressive laws; political Islam permeated everyday life, esp. in regard to women’s rights; one law for the Saud family, another for the rest.
Totalitarianism (the realm of metapolitics)
- North Korea – Not much to say here.