Expanding Freedom

As freedom grows in the world, so does the question of what freedom is. Yesterday Freedom House announced the highest number of free countries since its year-end surveys began in 1972. In the current Foreign Affairs, a much-discussed article says the commitment to individual freedom "distinguishes the West from other civilizations." Freedom House lists many non-Western countries among 79 free ones. It seems that not everyone, once given freedom, chooses individualism as a way to exercise it. The spread of the ability to choose is what makes the Freedom House report a heartening sign.

And it will be interesting to see if a longer establishment of freedom outside the West will eventually alter the thesis of Harvard scholar Samuel P. Huntington in the Foreign Affairs article, "The West: Unique, Not Universal." He argues a taste for Coca-Cola elsewhere does not mean adoption of Western values any more than a taste for sushi means adoption of Japanese values. Yet you don't have to be Western to value individual freedom, as many who have brought their lands into the company of free nations must.

This company now embraces nearly 42 percent of the world's 191 countries, says Freedom House. Among Eastern countries, Taiwan and the Philippines joined the "free" - "having a broad range of political rights and civil liberties." Now 135 million more people live free than in 1995, for a total of 1.25 billion, 2.26 billion live "partly free," and the same number "not free."

"Two cheers for Democracy: one because it admits variety and two because it admits criticism," wrote E.M. Forster. "Two cheers are quite enough: there is no occasion to give three."

How about two-and-a-half on this occasion? A new peak in "global momentum" toward democracy.

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