The Year of the Dictator

Fukuyama’s argument received a huge amount of attention because it played into the heady sense of victory after the end of the Cold War. But democracy had been spreading since the early 19th century. And while it has endured some ups and downs, the trend is unmistakable. As the accompanying graph shows, since 1972, the fraction of “free countries” has increased from 29 percent to 45 percent. (The source of the data is the think tank Freedom House; for clarity I have omitted countries that Freedom House defines as “partly free.”)
But the graph also shows that stagnation set in about 10 to 15 years ago. No one knows why. It might be a random fluctuation in an irreversible trend, as Fukuyama’s argument suggests, but it also may indicate that the engine of democracy has run out of steam.