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FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: This is GPS, the Global Public Square. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I’m Fareed Zakaria……

But, first, here’s my take. We are watching a season of discontent in the world of young democracies, from Egypt to Turkey to Brazil. Protests, marches, and of course, one coup.

As we watch the turbulence around the globe, I think about our own democratic journey and how interesting it is that the distinctive feature of the American system is not how democratic it is, but rather how undemocratic it is.

Hear me out. We have three co-equal branches of government and the one with the final say on many issues, the Supreme Court, is composed of 9 unelected men and women.

The American senate is the most unrepresentative upper house in the democratic universe, with the exception of Britain’s House of Lords, which is of course utterly powerless.

California’s 38 million people have the same representation in the Senate as do Wyoming’s 576,000. State and local governments battle federal power. Private businesses and other nongovernmental groups, are also part of this mix.

Now, there are aspects of the system that many Americans don’t like. I think the Senate, in general, is a broken institution from its representation to its absurd rules about filibusters.

But the system of checks and balances, as the famous phrase goes, has, in general worked well. The form of government that came out of the French Revolution, by contrast, is one of absolute sovereignty, centralizing all powers at the top.

Since that revolution, France has had many upheavals and changes in regime, going through two monarchies, two empires, one crypto- fascist dictatorship and five republics.

The United States, by contrast, has had a continuous constitutional existence. Why is this important as we look at the world today?

Well, in so many of these cases, what we are watching are democratic governments, elected freely and fairly, that are abusing individual rights, ignoring minority parties and eroding checks and balances.

Observing the early flowering of this phenomenon in the mid 1990s, I described it as illiberal democracy. And this is the problem we confront in the Arab world and so many other developing countries.

The good news is that other elements within society are fighting against this kind of illiberal democracy; political groups, student movements.

Even the clash between the Egyptian military and the Muslim Brotherhood could be useful in the long-run because it resembles the clashes between kings and lords, the church and the state, the aristocracy and the new business elites in the development of Western liberal democracy.

It can look very messy while it’s happening and neither side has a monopoly of virtue, but the contest between various power centers over time does help to create a system of checks and balances.

So, what we’re watching might look like crisis and breakdown, but it might turn out to be the road to better government.

Posted August 26, 2013 by tmusicfan in Politics, Quote of the Day

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