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.

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. Mark Adomanis says


    A very humerous and rightfully sarcastic attempt to tweak the ratings put out by outfites like Freedom House, but I think you need to get a lot more arbitrary and bizzare. All of the US-run freedom indices aren’t merely slanted (that’s to be expected) but usually also have some truly weird crap thrown in the mix. So, as a piece of advice, spice things up a little bit: call China a democracy, call Georgia a totalitarian nightmare, describe Italy as a monarchy, or maybe harp on the severe media restrictions in Finland. Right now your rankings actually appear to mirror reality and that is simply not acceptable!

  2. Good breakdown – saves the kids out there from having to attend a semester of Comparative Politics. Agree with bundling Turkey and Russia. I don’t think most people know about Turkey’s highly repressive and backwards culture laws (e.g., Art. 301 of Penal Code), which criminalize any criticism of Turkey, Turkish ‘identity’, and Turkish government institutions. Journalists have been imprisoned under this law. Turkey has banned YouTube since 2007 – you can’t watch it there without using a proxy server – because it hosted videos critical of Ataturk (one video was entitled “Ataturk is gay”). Since June of this year Turkey banned Google entirely, but again nobody knows because it’s not covered in the media (compare to the Google v. China imbroglio). It’s barely discussed even when the current and previous Presidents publicly supported Turkey’s EU membership bid. I can only imagine the sh*tstorm that would arise if Russia engaged in similar behavior.

    • FYI – just checked and in 2010 Freedom House concluded that Turkey is “partly free” whereas Russia is “not free.” Unfortunately, nobody in Turkey knows the country’s rank because the government broke the google.

    • Thanks, the Turkey/Russia (Georgia/Israel/Colombia) all being in more-or-less one illiberal basket has been with me for quite a while.

      I’ve made some minor changes. It was wrong of me to put France near to Germany & Scandinavia are the top of the semi-liberal democracies. It’s not even close. I also added in Israel, which I forgot to classify.

      It’s really hard to classify countries in the Semi-Liberal sphere. For instance, people who place a great deal of emphasis on social rights / protections would prefer Europe; those who prefer 100% free speech (from gov’t interference) / gun rights would choose the US.

      IMO, the clincher that puts the US near the bottom of the Semi-Liberal Democracies – and the UK at the bottom, because it doesn’t even have America’s deep respect for individuality / free speech – are their surveillance apparatuses and anti-terrorist siege mentalities (that are fast getting codified in law).

      Let me make it clear: I think the US has slid further down the slope to illiberal democracy / Caesarism in 2 years of Obama than 8 years of Bush (though obviously not for the crazy Tea Party reasons). At least the latter never assumed to himself the right to order the assassinations of US citizens. Now it’s the Executive’s prerogative by precedent. The rule of law / Constitution is giving way to the rule of men. The “good” thing is that at least for now, they are constrained by certain ethical standards. Would this still be the case in 10 years time?

      After all, ten years ago the idea that the US would run a transnational prison & torture network for terrorists (be they real or imagined), or in which the President could order hits on US citizens abroad, would have been considered absurd. Today it’s a reality that few care to notice.

    • Well, with Turkey inching eastward, I think there will be more tempests in teapots from Europe about Turkey’s “democratic credentials.”

  3. This supports something I’ve long believed, namely that democracy isn’t some sort of absolute value, i.e. one can’t divide countries simply into “democratic” and “non-democratic.” Rather, there are different degrees of democratic development.

  4. I’ve seen freedom defined as the ability to pursue one’s self interest. Sounds like a reasonable definition. Marxists used to say that in politics people normally express their self-interest through class struggle, but I think that’s delusional. In the vast majority of cases people identify their political self-interest with ethnocentrism instead. Many European countries ban expressions of ethnocentrism by most of their citizens. It’s interesting to note that North Korea doesn’t.

    By banning nationalistic speech, these European countries ban the main expression of most of their people’s political self-interest, at least as it’s understood by the banned speakers themselves. In the process they severely curtail their people’s freedom.

    The above is separate from the question of whether or not democracy is even desirable. In the past almost nobody thought that it was. Plato, Thucydides, Voltaire – none of them thought much of it.

    In the ideal setup the guy at the top would have a highly personal stake in the system. He would look at himself not as a CEO-like temporary custodian of other people’s stuff (“steal as much as you can while you still have the chance”), but as a rightful owner who will eventually pass on what he inherited to his children. In other words, I think that monarchy is pretty good as political setups go. I saw Singapore in your list, which reminded me of one of the best statesmen of our time, Lee Kuan Yew. I think he’s already been succeeded as Prime Minister by his eldest son. Good for him.

    As the saying goes, what belongs to everybody is cared for by nobody. I think that the following is relevant to the democracy/ monarchy debate:

    The most dynamic large corporations are usually ones that are still run by their founders. Early Ford, early Wal-Mart, Apple today – they’ve all had people at the top who considered the company to be theirs even after it no longer was in the strict legal sense. Microsoft no longer has that, so one would expect it to stagnate in the future.

    Democracy is like a large public corporation – millions own shares, almost all of them feel powerless, a handful of people at the top, none of whom own even 1% of the company, get to temporarily steer the ship without being made to feel any of the responsibility that actual ownership brings.

    • Problem is, said owner can turn out to be an idiot – especially common after a few generations in a dynasty – and no amount of paternalistic sentiment will compensate.

      PS. I think Lee Kuan Yew did a great job too. But I certainly don’t want to live in Singapore. While it might be fun to visit it for a few days, the idea of actual living there is almost revolting to me. (Then again, I’m a rootless cosmopolitan, so my opinion shouldn’t matter).

  5. Alex ("zed" one) says

    After reading this your text, I am trying to figure out the difference between a “Semi-Liberal Democracy” and a “Liberal Semi-Democracy” 🙂

  6. georgesdelatour says

    I’m curious about “Gun Rights” as a measure of political freedom. Can you show any statistical correlation between the amount of lethal weaponry in the hands of private citizens and any other traditionally understood measure of political freedom?

    All states – even the USA – accept that the individual citizen’s right to bear arms cannot be an unbounded right. That’s why no state allows its citizens the right to build their own personal nuclear deterrent (“break into my house and I destroy the world!!!”).

    In the UK we have very restrictive gun laws. But we have very high levels of knife crime, partly as a consequence. I’m not sure high levels of knife crime makes us more free than low levels would.

    I was trying to work out how useful this is as an index of freedom:'s_Muhammad_cartoons

    • There’s probably no major correlation. US is “free”, has guns; Japan is “free”, guns forbidden; Afghanistan is “unfree”, (everybody who can afford them) has guns; China is “unfree”, guns are highly regulated. That said, I do think that gun ownership enhances individual freedom and civil society in relation to state power.

      Yes, I do think being allowed to reprint controversial cartoons is important without being harassed, fired, arrested, etc, is an important component of freedom. While there’s not much that I agree on with Mark Steyn, this is one of them.

      • I doubt if gun ownership in a big powerful country like the U.S. has any bearing on the relationship between citizenry and state power. Federal U.S. government has massive armed power and could crush in about two seconds any citizen “militia” that stood up against it. Rather, I do accept NRA argument that widespread gun ownership deters crime. Argument is simple: statistically, honest people (95%) outnumber criminals (5%), ergo, if everybody is armed, then honest people win. Argument is logical, but there is a problem: most honest people can’t be convinced to take the time and effort to train and learn how to use a weapon. It’s a lot of work, owning, maintaining, training, etc. Also can be expensive. I do agree with NRA that state and local gun laws are far too restrictive and complicated. More honest people would take the time to arm themselves if they weren’t so worried about the various state and local regulations in regard to transporting, etc..

        • georgesdelatour says

          I looked at the murder rate by country:

          I can’t see any obvious correlation between a high gun ownership and a low murder rate. If anything, the statistics suggest the opposite – though not decisively so. The US has a much higher murder rate than Japan; but Switzerland has mandatory domestic possession of firearms and a very low murder rate.

          Anatoly, why does Russia have such a high murder rate? It looks as if former Soviet bloc countries generally have higher murder rates than, say, west European countries.

          • A large part of it is down to the alcohol problem – something like (IIRC) 75% of homicides were estimated to be linked to alcohol consumption (e.g. drunken bouts) in a 2004 study. Eliminate that, and you get c. American homicide rates. That remainder, I would guess, is mostly turf wars before gangs in urban areas.

  7. Where would Canada and my Massachusetts (which essentially has a one-party system)?

    • Gah!

      Where would they stand in those rankings?

      • Canada would be somewhere in the middle of the Semi-Liberal Democratic camp. Massachusetts – don’t know, but probably similar to the Bay Area (where I am), which at the local level, is one of the most liberal democratic polities on Earth.

  8. This is awesome. But I agree you should make it a bit more quirky, throw in some random criteria, since these exercises can never be truly “scientific” anyway.

    Also, you left out Switzerland.

  9. Ilham Barat Oly KARIMOV says

    Zionist Regime Friendly Ilham Aliyev

    Fascist Simon PERES and Fascist ALIYEV huge each other

    ALIYEV is thief

    Hillary Clinton also showered Ilham Aliyev with her Zionist charm on phone. However, Illham Aliyev have not forgotten for being ignored by Obama by not inviting him at Obama¡¯s Nuclear Security Summit charade in Washington.
    Ilham Aliyev=Zionist Jew Agent
    ¤ Fascist Simon PERES och Fascist ALIYEV kramar varandra
    ¤ Aliyev is a Zionist puppet — like HÅsna Mubarek. He is the son of a former Mo$$ad strongman. He knows if a new leader is elected, the people will demand answers about the billions being stolen in oil wealth while the poor suffer.
    Commented by asylumseeker:
    Ilham Barat Oly KARIMOV born1963-03-01 Dossier No. 10-23 62 54 at the Migrations Board
    Ilham Barat Oly KARIMOV
    c./o. Ali AGHAYEV
    Bjursätragatan 92,
    124 64 Rågsved-BANDHAGEN, SWEDEN

  10. below_freezing says

    I think China should be moved up a category to semi-authoritarian. There are hundreds of intellectuals like Mao Yushi who are actively denouncing communism and the government, with no negative personal effects. Liu Xiaobo was not arrested for talking bad about the government, but for trying to organize a rebel movement. China is also not a surveillance state; no one checks your papers and 160 million people live outside the places registered on their internal passports, which during the Mao era and Deng era were strictly enforced, but ever since the 90’s are unenforced except for public healthcare benefit collection.

    There are also very few moral laws in China, with the exception of a ban on drugs and prostitution. Unlike the US with intrusive personal life laws (21 to drink, age of consent for *** being 16-18, severe restrictions on abortion depending on place) China has European style personal laws (16 to drink, age of consent at 14, no restrictions on abortion). China does not have a national dress code (Iran, Saudi Arabia), national religion (Iran, Saudi Arabia), long ruling dictators or hereditary political dynasties (Singapore, post-Soviet republics).

    • It has a national religion, communism. Iran etc. don’t have a national dress code. You just have to be dressed properly which is a bit stricter than in China. But you will be arrested if you walked naked on Tiananmen square

      • below_freezing says

        Communism isn’t a religion, otherwise you can also say that the US has a civil religion of belief in the absolute superiority of the American model. In fact, that is far closer to religion than China’s communism. At least in China you only have to take 2 courses on this “religion”, in US schools you get indoctrinated once every 3 years in school about the greatness of America.

        In Iran and Saudi Arabia, women have to wear veils, is that not a dress code? In female equality, China ranks above Germany and just below Ireland, while Iran and Saudi Arabia worse than many countries in sub-Saharan Africa. I’d think that female equality was an important measure of democracy, since it determines how much freedom half the population has.

        22, Ireland
        Overall score (out of 100): 84.5
        Justice: 89.8
        Health: 86.2
        Education: 93.1
        Economics: 81.0
        Politics: 51.0

        23, China
        Overall score (out of 100): 84.4
        Justice: 92.2
        Health: 99.2
        Education: 100.0
        Economics: 73.2
        Politics: 36.7

        30, Germany
        Overall score (out of 100): 83.4
        Justice: 74.0
        Health: 94.7
        Education: 96.8
        Economics: 78.2
        Politics: 62.7

        95, Ghana
        Overall score (out of 100): 65.5
        Justice: 64.7
        Health: 51.3
        Education: 72.4
        Economics: 89.9
        Politics: 47.3

        125, Iran
        Overall score (out of 100): 50.1
        Justice: 54.9
        Health: 77.9
        Education: 76.8
        Economics: 62.2
        Politics: 12.1

        141, India
        Overall score (out of 100): 41.9
        Justice: 54.0
        Health: 64.1
        Education: 64.9
        Economics: 60.7
        Politics: 14.8

        147, Saudi Arabia
        Overall score (out of 100): 35.5
        Justice: 40.6
        Health: 68.1
        Education: 79.6
        Economics: 47.8
        Politics: 5.0

        • They don’t need to wear a veils. They need to cover their hair or face. Wearing an astronauts helmet would work too.

          ps. To all those Indians out there. Only 6 places removed from Saudi Arabia. It is really on its way to become the greatest country in the world

  11. Anatoli, I think you are falling into the trap that the Western “Democracies” have set for you. Oscar Wilde noted that there is no “moral” or “immoral” art – there is good art and bad art and that is all. I would say the same of governance. It does not matter whether the cat is a democrat or an autocrat – what matters is if it catches mice. To rate Mexico – with one man worth $85bn and millions of malnurished children, or India, with 200 million people living below not the poverty but the starvation level – higher than Russia or Cuba, Turkey or China is insane. The primary purpose of governance should be the provision of a decent lifestyle to the denizens of any given country – the rest is icing on the cake!