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The world is reminding us that democracy is hard

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The news this week that democracy is imperiled in Tunisia — the only success story of the Arab Spring — comes just three weeks after we heard that Haiti’s president had been assassinated. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the government seems unable to establish authority across the country. It got me thinking about one of the fundamental questions of politics: Why is it so difficult to develop and sustain liberal democracy?

The best recent work on this subject comes from a remarkable pair of scholars, Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson. In their latest book, “The Narrow Corridor,” they have answered this question with great insight. In every society, they note, the first step is simply achieving some measure of order and stability. History is littered with places where gangs, warlords and tribes rule and the state is never able to effectively consolidate power and govern. That was Afghanistan’s past and might be its future.

If political order is rare, liberal political order is rarer still. Liberal democracy is the Goldilocks form of government. It needs a state that is strong enough to govern effectively but not so strong that it crushes the liberties and rights of its people. The authors call this “the shackled Leviathan.” (Thomas Hobbes........

© Washington Post

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