Magazine December 17, 2020, Issue

Freedom’s Fortunes

Turkey’s Erdogan and Russia’s Putin in Zhukovsky, Russia, August 27, 2019 (Alexey Nikolsky/AFP via Getty Images)
A quick, unhappy tour

Freedom, democracy, and human rights have always been rare. Dictatorship is the rule. Yet there have been democratic flowerings, as in the 1990s, after the Soviet Union collapsed. The weather is now cold. Strongmen are in the saddle, riding high.

There are individuals and organizations that chart such things. Freedom in the world has declined for 14 straight years, according to Freedom House. If there is good news, it is this: People resist this decline, heroically (and often fatally).

What do we mean by “freedom,” or “democracy,” or “human rights”? The basics, really: freedom of expression; freedom of worship; the rule of

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