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Freedom in the World 2010

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Jun. 16th, 2010 | 09:07 pm
mood: lazylackluster

The Freedom in the World 2010 report, published by Freedom House, has finally become available.

I've got to say I'm a bit underwhelmed, though, since instead of the big PDF file I was hoping for that'd contain all the information on individual countries and territories that I'd hoped for, the only thing that seems to have been added to the PDFs already available is a database built mostly around a Flash app that'll allow you to read up on individual countries' assessments in a tiny scrolling textbox in your browser window. I really hope that this is just temporary and that something better will yet come along, although it's better than nothing.

(That said, keep in mind that this is an organization that is in no small part funded by the US-American government and which also quite openly states that its board of trustees is "united in the view that American leadership in international affairs is essential to the causes of human rights and democracy", so as always, take what they're saying with a grain of salt. But that should go without saying for this sort of report, anyway.)

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from: schnee
date: Jun. 16th, 2010 09:05 pm (UTC)

Mmm, perhaps. I don't want to accuse them of outright dishonesty or intentional misrerepresentations, but there's many kinds of bias, and not all are obvious. It might well be that everyone involved in the whole thing genuinely believes that they are entirely fair and objective, but that doesn't mean that they are, or that the final product will be.

FWIW, I can see where people who believe that a US-American hegemony is the only way to ensure freedom are perhaps coming from, too: I could see someone genuinely believing that there was no freedom in the world before the USA appeared on the map (everybody knows that Europe was just a bunch of quarreling kingdoms, and that the rest of the world was... well, the same really, right?), and that it was only in areas where the USA exerted direct influence to create freedom (the "western" world), it actually appeared, with the rest of the world either continuing as quarreling kingdoms or adopting the appearance of western democracies without actually being democratic, instead becoming banana republics at best and dictatorships at worst. And I can see how someone thinking along these lines might believe that as soon as the USA disappear from the equation (for instance when China becomes the world's foremost superpower), all this will collapse and everything will revert to an unfree state again.

I don't agree with this, though: quite the opposite, I think that freedom can only really come from within. That's why the war in Afghanistan has been a failure even with the goal of bring freedom and democracy (after "catch UBL", "get rid of the Taliban for good", "stop opium production" etc. were already abandoned): the only ones who can free Afghanistan are the Afghani people themselves. You can't force someone to be free. (Of course, it also seems that this goal has ALSO been abandoned and replaced with "stabilize the place enough that we can leave without it turning into a powder keg that'll blow up in our faces in 30 or 50 years from now", but I'm doubtful even that will be accomplished.)

Similarly, I think that a hegemony of any kind cannot even bring freedom. A "pax americana", as it were, may be better than the earlier "quarreling kingdoms" scenario, just like having a "pax romana" was better than having a bunch of quarreling tribes, but it doesn't bring real freedom.

For example, freedom is very much not a guiding principle in politics in Germany; laws aren't written with freedom in mind, the constitution doesn't guarantee it for the most part (instead claiming it does but then leaving the "details" to federal legislation), and while people will often claim to be interested in freedom, what they really are interested in is the status quo: they want to be be free to do what they always did, but they don't care about freedom as such.

At the same time, the USA themselves, as much as they claim to care about freedom, also only apply it to their own citizens. If you're not a US citizen, your "inalienable rights" won't be worth the paper they're written on, and even if you ARE a citizen, the USA aren't exactly a social libertarian's utopia. (And curiously enough, many actual self-described libertarians, when pressed on the issue, will only really grumble about the feds and talk about "states' rights" and so on, as if it is somehow acceptable if your state government violates your rights.)

Finally, I think you're definitely right insofar as that the USA, all in all, don't care about freedom in the rest of the world as much as about their own interests. Propping up Europe after WW2 was in their strategic interest, so they did it, but it wasn't out of benevolence or a desire to make the world a little more free; and all the wars that they've started and fought since then, too, need to be understood in terms of how they benefitted the USA. A hegemony ultimately exists for its own benefit; it can't be any other way.

Given that, the report really needs to be taken with some salt, although on the other hand, one cannot conclude that just because it proclaims certain nations to be only partially free or outright unfree, they really aren't. It's not the end of anything; rather, it's one starting point for research, and in that sense, it's useful and interesting. :)

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