A review of The Anglo-American Tradition of Liberty: A View from Europe by João Carlos Espada.
A number of countries in East-Central Europe are facing a grave crisis of constitutional democracy. As their governments seek to undermine the institutional limits on their power, constitutional courts have become a central target.
Public anger at revelations of widespread corruption, along with the rising cost of coalition politics, has brought Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff to the brink of impeachment. Yet the crisis has also revealed the strength of the country’s law-enforcement and judicial institutions.
Much can be done to uproot graft when a major event such as the Rose Revolution sweeps in a determined new team on a wave of massive public support.
Are the “virtuous circles” crucial to good governance always the product of long-term developments under unique historical circumstances, or can they be started or accelerated by wise policies?
Latin American countries are burdened with domestic security problems and institutional weaknesses that have led to a rising political role for the military forces. Are there serious dangers in this “turn toward the barracks”?
It is fine to acknowledge the importance of law-based rule to the eventual rise of modern democracy, but we must not overlook the even greater contribution of the idea of equality.
Europe in the Middle Ages was hardly democratic, but it did have law-based institutions that could and did stay the hands of kings, laying a crucial basis for future state-building and democracy-building alike.
The failure to establish modern, well-governed states has been the Achilles heel of recent democratic transitions, as democratization without state modernization can actually lower the quality of governance.