These images of the 20th century deserve to be placed in any global time capsule:
The final vote in Congress to grant American women the right to vote.
The first person to vote in a post-colonial free state in Africa.
Thousands of Filipinos guarding ballot boxes with their lives against Marcos-dictatorship thugs.
The man stopping tanks during pro-democracy protests in Beijing.
The first person to cast a ballot in post-communist Russia.
And so on. Democracy has been the defining political trend of the 20th-century. It has inspired modern minuteman and left too many fallen heroes. It has had too many countering "isms" and power-hungry usurpers.
The end result?
In 1900, no nation allowed universal voting rights and 1 in 8 people lived in a restricted democracy. Empires and monarchies dominated the world. Today, almost 6 out of 10 people live in electoral democracies. These tallies come from Freedom House, a activist organization that keeps track of democracy worldwide.
Over the past year alone, freedom gained ground in 26 nations and suffered setbacks in 18, out of 192 nations in the world. In "long-resistant" Islamic countries, modest "ferment" toward liberalization is taking place.
"Humankind, in fits and starts, is rejecting oppression and opting for greater openness and freedom," states Freedom House. An upsurge in civil wars after the cold war is largely because dictators and state-run economies have difficulty fending off the trend toward openness.
Despite democracy's often clumsy ways, it has spread because more people were exposed to the idea that they can make a difference in their societies and for themselves by electing leaders who represent and lead them.
Having such 20th century advances as cars, planes, TV, and the Internet just doesn't measure up to simply being free.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society