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Crisis of Liberty

Human rights are declining worldwide across a range of indicators.

July 4, 2021

Democracy worldwide peaked in approximately 2006 and has experienced net annual declines since that time, with deterioration of “more than half of the world’s established democracies.”(1) The United States has fallen below the traditional democratic peers and its own historical standards, deteriorating from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy.”

Inalienable and universal human rights, including freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of conscience, and others, have been increasingly infringed.  Reporters without Borders warned in 2015 that as “conflicts proliferated…all warring parties without exception waged a fearsome information war” in which media “became strategic targets” to be controlled or silenced.(2) In 2019, the group reported in that "the number of countries regarded as safe, where journalists can work in complete security, continues to decline, while authoritarian regimes continue to tighten their grip on the media."(3)

An absolute majority of incoming U.S. college freshmen favored restrictions on speech for the first time in 2019.(4) Activists have conveyed intolerance to dissenting views “as if free speech were zero sum,” and speakers with dissenting views have repeatedly been “disinvited or forced to withdraw from campus speaking engagements.”(5)

The Pew Research Center reported that from 2007 to 2017, “laws, policies and actions by state officials that restrict religious beliefs and practices have increased markedly around the world. And social hostilities involving religion – including violence and harassment by private individuals or groups – also have risen since 2007.”(6)

The world’s most powerful people are no longer presidents of Western democracies, but authoritarians with long records of human rights abuses as “consolidation of power in the hands of an elite few worldwide” continues.(7) The decades-long reform era in China (8) and Russia (9) is over following “constitutional coups” in 2018 and 2020, respectively, by autocrats now positioned to rule for life. In the United States and Europe, democratic institutions are eroding as the political elites attempt to “turn inhabitants from citizens into dependent clients.”(10) Political groups have worked to consolidate control of ostensibly neutral societal power centers.  Partisanized justice systems engage in political prosecutions of opponents while favorites are rarely if ever held accountable.

Ostensible defenders of human rights in Western governments, the press, and non-governmental organizations have been silent or complicit in the face of encroaching authoritarianism. Some organizations professing to be politically neutral public interest groups have pursued blatantly partisan agendas.  Civility has declined and partisan animosity has continued to reach all-time highs, with large numbers of affiliates of both major US political parties holding “very unfavorable” views of the other,(11) and political viewpoints increasingly defining personal relationships.  Between American liberals and conservatives, there is “little overlap in the news sources they turn to and trust.”(12)  Americans increasingly disagree over basic facts.(13) Just six corporate conglomerates have controlled 90% of US media since 2011, providing the “illusion of choice.”(14)  Election rules have undergone drastic changes in some jurisdictions with little or no public input, at times through opaque backroom deals with unaccountable interest groups.(15)

Standing against oppression, erosion of human rights, and de-democratization is everyone's duty, regardless of political preferences or preferred candidates.


1. Repucci, Sarah. 2020. “Freedom in the World 2020: A Leaderless Struggle for Democracy.” Freedom House.

2. Reporters Without Borders. 2015. “World Press Freedom Index 2015.”

3. Reporters Without Borders. 2019. "2019 World Press Freedom Index - A cycle of fear."

4. Stolzenberg Ellen B., Aragon MC, Romo E, Couch V, McLennan D, Eagan MK, Kang N. 2020. "The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2019,” 41. Higher Education Research Institute - University of California Los Angeles.

5. Rampell, Catherine. "Liberal intolerance is on the rise on America's college campuses." 2016. Washington Post, February 11, 2016.

6. A Closer Look at How Religious Restrictions Have Risen Around the World.” Pew Research Center, July 15, 2019.

7. Ewalt, David M. 2018. "The World's Most Powerful People 2018." Forbes, May 8, 2018.

8. Doubek, James. 2018. "China Removes Presidential Term Limits, Enabling Xi Jinping To Rule Indefinitely." National Public Radio, March 11, 2018.

9. Kara-Murza, Vladimir. 2020. "Vladimir Putin just staged a constitutional coup. How will Russians react?" Washington Post, January 17, 2020.

10. Klaus, Václav. "Europe All Inclusive: Understanding the Current Migration Crisis." Gatestone Institute, 28 March 2018.

11. “Partisanship and Political Animosity in 2016.”  Pew Research Center, June 22, 2016.

12. Mitchell, Amy, et al. 2014. "Political Polarization and Media Habits." Pew Research Center, October 21, 2014.

13.  Barthel, Michael, Amy Mitchell and Jesse Holcomb. 2016. "Many Americans Believe Fake News Is Sowing Confusion." Pew Research Center, December 15, 2016.

14.  Lutz, Ashley. 2012 "These 6 Corporations Control 90% of the Media in America." Business Insider, June 14, 2012.

15. Ball, Molly. "The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election." Time, February 4, 2021.

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