Measuring Democracy I: Introducing the Karlin Freedom Index (KFI)

I’ve been meaning to make an in-depth study of the 3 major “freedom indices” – Polity IV (the most objective one), the Economist Democracy Index (fairly arbitrary) & Freedom in the World (a purely ideological project) – for more than 2 years now, but have yet to come round to it. Though it remains on my long-term agenda, for now I’ll content myself with something that’s a lot more fun and easier to compile: my own “freedom index”. I mean since so many others are in on the game, why don’t I have a go?

In practice, truly 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). 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); the Totalitarian extends the political realm over all spheres of human activity, bringing us into the realm of (Viereck’s) Metapolitics.

Liberal Democracy (Very Hard to Reconcile the Two)

  • Some local communities?
  • Iceland? Netherlands? Sweden? (not a “new totalitarian”*) – few significant issues; high social mobility.
  • Spain – few significant issues; may be tested by economic crisis.
  • Germany – few significant issues.

Semi-Liberal Democracy (Influential Oligarchy, Imperfect Democracy)

  • India – strong tradition of debate & power diffusion, marred by caste inequalities, privilege, political cliquishness.
  • Mexico – drug cartels challenge to the state may lead to curtailment of freedom. ↓
  • Brazil – arbitrary power structures; extra-judicial murders*
  • Baltic states – widespread ethnic discrimination; economic crisis may lead to freedom regression, esp. in Latvia. ↓
  • France – paternalistic; trending to surveillance state; discrimination against minorities. ↓
  • Italy – concentration of economic & media power under Berlusconi, trending to Illiberal Democracy. ↓
  • Japan – paternalistic; ultra-high conviction rates; no gun rights; but ceased being an (effectively) one-party state with recent election of DJP. ↑
  • South Korea – paternalistic; surveillance state; restrictive regulations, freedom of speech restrictions.
  • Ukraine – in “anarchic stasis” since independence; arbitrary power structures; recently trending to Illiberal Democracy. ↓
  • USA – highest prison population; corporatist surveillance state; runs transnational Gulag; increasingly arbitrary power structures, institutional groundwork being laid for Caesarism? (1, 2); but strong freedom of speech traditions relatively unmarred by PC & libel laws; strongly trending to Illiberal Democracy. ↓↓
  • UK – corporatist surveillance state; repressive libel & PC laws, regulations; no gun rights; strongly trending to Illiberal Democracy. ↓↓

Illiberal Democracy (Oligarchic Caesarism & Plebiscitary Regimes)

  • Colombia – pursued illiberal policies vs. FARC*; trending to Semi-Liberal Democracy with recent transfer of power. ↑
  • Israel – severe national security-related civil liberties restrictions; growing influence of settler & fundamentalist agendas over the traditional Zionist foundation is increasing the long-term possibility of a degeneration from today’s democracy to apartheid (1, 2). ↓
  • Turkey – maintains severe restrictions on speech; ethnic discrimination; arbitrary power structures; paradoxically, both authoritarian & liberal principles strengthening under influence of Gulenists & AKP. ↑↓
  • Russia – super-presidentialism; arbitrary power structures; surveillance state; paradoxically, both authoritarian & liberal principles strengthening under influence of Medvedev clan. ↑↓
  • Venezuela – increasingly illiberal; Chavez as “Caesar”? ↓
  • Georgia – arbitrary power structures; Saakashvili as “Caesar”? ↓
  • Athenian democracy, Veche democracy, etc – these were inevitably illiberal democracies dominated by oligarchies.

Semi-Authoritarianism (Permanent State of Emergency)

  • Belarus – overt political repression; Bat’ka is collective farm boss of a country.
  • 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.
  • Egypt – overt political repression; severe cultural, religious restrictions; Mubarak is permanent President.
  • 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, clearing ground for a chiliastic Metapolitics*. ↓↓


  • 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. ↑
  • Khrushchev’s USSR (ottepel’) – overt political repression, but some allowance for diversity of voices within (post)-totalitarian frames of reference.
  • Cuba – overt political repression; pervasive Internet & media censorship.
  • Brezhnev’s USSR (zastoi) – overt political repression & “senescent totalitarianism” that was, however, but an imitation of real Totalitarianism, because by that period ideological purity was passé.
  • 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. Somewhat like Fascist Italy, it is on the borderline between Authoritarianism & Totalitarianism.

Totalitarianism (The Realm of Metapolitics)

  • Nazi Germany – a fascinating history: a degeneration from early Weimar Semi-Liberal Democracy to Illiberal Democracy by 1929 & Semi-Authoritarian state of emergency by early 1930’s, & coalescing into heavy Authoritarianism by mid 1930’s; reached Totalitarianism during 1942-45.
  • Stalin’s USSR – degenerated from Authoritarianism in 1920’s-early 1930’s to Totalitarianism by mid-1930’s, where it remained until 1953 (broken only during 1942-1944?, when it was Authoritarian).
  • North Korea – welcome to the hermit kingdom!*
  • Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge – “totalitarianism at its unsurpassed purest”?*

PS. Yeah, I know indices are supposed to have numbers and stuff. I leave their random and arbitrary insertion – as per the best traditions of political science – as an exercise for the reader.

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