The Arab Spring has, in recent months, raised hopes that a new wave of democratization will sweep across the developing world, akin to 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In China, online activists inspired by events in the Middle East have called for a “jasmine revolution.” In Singapore, one of the quietest countries in the world, opposition activists called for an “orchid evolution” in the run-up to this month’s national elections. The Middle East uprisings could herald “the greatest advance for human rights and freedom since the end of the Cold War,” argued British foreign minister William Hague. Indeed, at no point since the end of the Cold War—when Francis Fukuyama penned his famous essay, The End of History, positing that liberal democracy was the ultimate destination for every country—has there been so much triumphal talk about the march of global freedom.
If only things were so simple. The truth is that the Arab Spring is something of a smokescreen for what is taking place in the world as a whole. Around the globe, it is democratic meltdowns, not democratic revolutions, that are now the norm. In a new cover article in The New Republic (subscription required), I explore the real story of democratization today – its decline.