Democracy in an age of anxiety: freedom the first casualty of fear


The fearful era in which we live is not conducive to defending democratic standards or extending democracy’s reach, according to the latest edition of The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index. “In our age of anxiety, the first casualty of fear and insecurity is often freedom,” it suggests.

“An increased sense of anxiety and insecurity in the face of diverse perceived risks and threats—economic, political, social and security—is undermining democracy,” said Joan Hoey, the report’s editor. “Defending democracy means upholding liberty, equality, tolerance and free expression, promoting a democratic political culture and fostering democratic institutions.”

The Democracy Index provides a snapshot of the state of democracy worldwide, the EIU notes:

Almost one-half of the world’s countries can be considered to be democracies, but, in our index, the number of “full democracies” is low, at only 20 countries; 59 countries are rated as “flawed democracies”. Of the remaining 88 countries in our index, 51 are “authoritarian” and 37 are considered to be “hybrid regimes”. Norway tops the Democracy Index global ranking in 2015 and North Korea is bottom. The US scrapes into the “full democracy” category, in 20th place, reflecting deepening polarisation of the political scene, popular discontent with the workings of democracy and a repressive law enforcement system….

Most “full democracies” are in western Europe. There are two Asian countries, one Latin American country (Uruguay) and one African country (Mauritius). “Flawed democracies” are concentrated in Latin America, eastern Europe and Asia. “Authoritarian regimes” are concentrated in Africa, the Middle East and the CIS countries of eastern Europe. Around 2.6bn people, more than one-third of the world’s population, live under authoritarian rule (with a large share being, of course, in China).

Democracy Index 2015, by regime type
No. of countries % of countries % of world population
Full democracies 20 12.0 8.9
Flawed democracies 59 35.3 39.5
Hybrid regimes 37 22.2 17.5
Authoritarian regimes 51 30.5 34.1

The migration crisis which swept Europe in the summer of 2015 put a strain on Europe’s democracies and will further weaken relations between member states as populist parties gain traction, according to a new report on the state of the world’s democracies, the report suggests:

According to its ranking, one European country, France, ceased to be classed as a full democracy, which was “the result of a deterioration in social cohesion” and pointed to the rise of the Front National (FN) as “just one example of an increased appetite among voters in western Europe for populist, anti-immigrant and eurosceptic parties”. … The authors observed that the refugee influx from Middle East and north Africa also raised “troubling questions” about how democracy was exercised and national sovereignty.

As well as the refugee problems, the global economic and financial crash of 2008 led to a decline in trust of public institutions in western Europe while the eurozone crisis had a negative effect on democracy scores in 2011 for countries such as Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Ireland.

“In Europe, the striking thing is that the majority of countries are full democracies [yet] Europe is a region [whose democracy] has stagnated or regressed the most,” said Hoey, editor of the report.

“The Cold War is over but the world is perceived to be a more dangerous place,” she told the Telegraph.

“In 2011 seven countries in western Europe suffered a decline in their democracy scores, largely due to the erosion of sovereignty and democratic accountability associated with the effects of and responses to the eurozone crisis.”

Uruguay is the only country in Latin America that can be considered a “full democracy.” Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea are deemed “flawed democracies.”

The Democracy Index 2015 is available free of charge at:

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