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  • Richard Farr

Those who would be king

Authoritarianism is on the rise … measurably.


Nobel prize-winning economist Angus Deaton has said that one of the most fundamental determiners of your life’s good or ill fortune is whether you live under a transparent, democratically biddable government, or under an opaque and corrupt one. In a world that seems to be full of pitiless thugs who have nothing but contempt for freedom or democracy, it’s important to keep track; one fascinating way to do so is the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law index.

Nice interactive map! The usual suspects are at the top (Demark Norway Finland) and bottom (DRC, Cambodia, Venezuela). My own two countries, the UK and US, rank 12th and 20th respectively. Could be far worse – yet somehow so very disappointing for two countries that go on and on so volubly and unthinkingly about their own marvelous patrimony of openness and freedom.

The historian Tony Judt was very perceptive about this in his last books, for instance Ill Fares the Land, but he admitted it was a puzzle. Why exactly had the Anglo-Saxon cheerleaders of liberty been so much worse than those bad bad Scandinavian socialists (and Germany – oh, the embarrassment!) at ensuring the openness of their institutions, the fairness of their legal systems, and the solidity of their civil liberties?

So much work to do. And one senses that the first and most difficult work, for most Americans and Brits, is getting a grip on the spiky unpleasant fact that there is so much work to do.

In the interim, perhaps we should thank Vlad, Recep, and the Cambodian generals for reminding us how far down it is from the ledge we’re currently monkeying about on.


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