Diversions: The Decline of Freedom (2013)

"This isn't democracy" street art. Photo courtesy of Feral78.
“This isn’t democracy” street art. Photo courtesy of Feral78.

A new weekly PV@G series features one piece from our archive every Friday, chosen for its continued relevance, unexpected insights, and total lack of references to pandemics or social distancing.

This week’s diversion is about freedom’s decline. Free and fair elections; freedom of expression, freedom to assemble and organize, due process, equal treatment under the law—these are just some of the things that make societies free. But these freedoms are being eroded.

In 2013, PV@G Editor Erica Chenoweth analyzed the alarming trend of declining government accountability and freedoms around the world. The trend has continued. Freedom House’s 2020 report describes a persistent and growing assault on institutional safeguards, freedom of expression, and minority protections, including in the world’s two largest democracies—the United States and India.

In her 2013 post, Chenoweth called on researchers to answer the question: Why are countries becoming less free? The question today is: why, after years of monitoring and advocacy, are countries still becoming less free?


By Erica Chenoweth | November 22, 2013

Every year Freedom House publishes a report on the state of Freedom in the World.[1] The 2013 report notes that “this is the seventh consecutive year that Freedom in the World has shown more declines [in freedom] than gains worldwide. Furthermore, the … data reflected a stepped-up campaign of persecution by dictators that specifically targeted civil society organizations and independent media.” In fact, while the report shows that 90 countries are now considered Free, 27 countries “showed significant declines, compared with 16 that showed notable gains.”

On the surface, one might think that the 2012 figures are primarily driven by backsliding in post-Arab Spring countries. But in fact, the decline started much earlier than that — in 2005 — after the early 2000s saw the relatively “freest” time in documented human history.

This is bad news for those who have argued that liberal democracy has essentially won the battle of political ideologies. Proponents of this view expected that the march toward greater freedom for all would be more or less linear — particularly after the fall of the Soviet Union. But we don’t see it spreading anymore. Instead, we see the reverse.

Read more here: Why Is Freedom In Decline?

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