Canada and Portugal have contested democratic status – 03/19/2023 – Marcus Melo
The recent release of the 2023 Reports by the V-DEM institute and Freedom House on the state of democracy in the world provoked strong controversy in the academic community and in multilateral and democracy promotion institutions. They are two institutions of great influence and respectability based respectively in Gothenburg and Washington. Freedom House has produced the report since 1973.
The two reports reach opposite conclusions: Freedom House points to a gradual improvement, while the V-DEM warns that the process of what it calls “autocratization” in the world is advancing. What caused more perplexity was the totally implausible conclusion, in the latter, that democracy had receded to the same level as in 1986. In that year, Eastern Europe was still under Soviet rule, South Korea was a military dictatorship, Nelson Mandela was still in prison and Pinochet was still in power.
In the case of the academic community, Adam Przeworski, considered the most important contemporary researcher on the subject of democracy, wrote on Twitter that the V-DEM report was a mere “publicity stunt”. The criticism is centered on methodological aspects already commented here in the column, and which several recent works scrutinize.
In terms of the public debate on the subject, the strongest criticism comes from Thomas Carothers, director of the Carnegie Endowment for Democracy, probably the most important public institution for monitoring and promoting democracy in the world and which edits the reference magazine on the subject, the Journal of Democracy. For him, the conclusion of the V-DEM that Canada, Portugal or Greece ceased to be liberal democracies is preposterous.
Carothers also argues that the abusive use of the expression autocracy —which intuitively refers to the idea of absolute rule by an individual or party— produces strong dissonance in public debate. How can Chile and Belarus (under Lukashenko’s rule for 29 years) be “autocratizing”? Russia and the US are also supposed to be autocratizing: their scores decline at the same rate. What does it mean to say that Denmark is becoming autocratized, if the probability of it becoming an autocracy is zero?
I have already discussed here in the column over the last few years, several times, the consequences of broadening concepts in relation to expressions such as the death of democracy and correlates, reflecting the most varied biases. And I already anticipated Przeworski’s criticism of the supposed “if it’s happening in the US with Trump, it’s happening everywhere”. Little and Meng’s analysis of these biases introduces new analytical rigor to this debate.
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