How Do You Measure Democracy?

The article End-times For Liberal Democracy interviews Yascha Mounk, a political theorist at Harvard University, about the declination of liberal democracy in recent years. In this article, Mounk argues that due to rising economic anxieties and religious as well as ethnic tension, there have been groups who felt their rights are not protected or their opinions are not represented in democracy. The inclination of populist authoritarianism and setting examples of success such as Russia also influence states to model themselves after.

Michael Albertus and Victor Menaldo, whose studies focus specifically on the origin of democracy, make the same argument on their article published by The New York Times in May 2018. However, Albertus and Menaldo did not call out the societal shifters as Mounk suggested; they analyzed the constitutional root of democracy and argued that originally “democratic constitutions are frequently designed by the outgoing authoritarian regime to safeguard incumbent elites from the rule of law and give them a leg up in politics and economic competition after democratization.” 1

Although the two articles make the same argument about the continuance of democracy, they talk about very substantially different ideas on the reasons why democracy is on a declining trend. While Mounk believes that democracy, in its procedural and substantive definitions, protects their citizens’ rights and suffrage, Albertus and Menaldo looked directly into the foundation of democracy and blame its founders on the lack of majority rights protection. A specific example that both articles give is Hungary. Albertus and Menaldo blame their constitution, and Mounk blames corruption. 2

1 James Tyler Dickovick and Jonathan Eastwood,  Current Debates in Comparative Politics (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2019). 

2 Michael Albertus and Victor Menaldo, “Why Are So Many Democracies Breaking Down?” The New York Times (May 08, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/08/opinion/democracy-authoritarian-constitutions.html.

TBT To Lee Kuan Yew

January 20th, 2019

In “Culture Is Destiny: A Conversation with Lee Kuan Yew”, Fareed Zakaria interviews the former prime minister of Singapore, the leader who helped boost Singapore’s economy to one of the most developed countries in the world, with an authoritarian regime. Throughout the entire conversation, Mr. Lee emphasized the difference between the culture of the West and the East, warning that although the West leads the world in science and technology development, the East will not abandon its tradition in order to fully assimilate to the West, economically and politically. On the other hand, the interviewer explicitly implicates that he believes that culture will change and alter the course of development, accordingly to the modernization theory of democratization.

Reuters reported that Singaporean government plans on scanning eyes at the immigration check of Changi Airport as an effort to try a new expensive technology that could potentially replace the fingerprints check at airports and immigration. This is one of the first steps towards using facial recognition in airports and around the country as well. The technology is supposed to increase the safety of the people, and the Singaporean government also pledges to warrant the privacy of its citizen and travelers.

Does the surge of technological advancement lead the country towards the West’s culture and ideas, or does it further enhance the policing and pervasiveness of tradition?

Despite the promise that they will be respecting the citizens’ privacy, the use of this new technology signals the tightening of security and policing that the Singaporean government is imposing on the country. This shows that even though Mr. Lee, the regime remains highly authoritarian and aims at increasing its control. Compared to the “perfect dictatorship” of Mexico under the PRI, Singapore has a greater level of control and limited competition for power, as all the prime ministers are appointed by the former ones.

Sources:

Fareed Zakaria and Lee Kuan Yew, “Culture Is Destiny: A Conversation with Lee Kuan Yew,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 73, No. 2, April 1994.

“Singapore Tests Eye Scans at Immigration Checkpoint-media,” Reuters (August 2018).