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Societies don't have to be secular to be modern

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Now, that essay was written in the winter of 1988 or '89 just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. I wrote it then because I thought that the pessimism about civilization that we had developed as a result of the terrible 20th century, with its genocides, gulags, and world wars, was actually not the whole picture at all. In fact, there were a lot of positive trends going on in the world, including the spread of democracy where there had been dictatorship. Sam Huntington called this "the third wave."

It began in southern Europe in the 1970s with Spain and Portugal turning to democracy. Then – and later – you had an ending of virtually all the dictatorships in Latin America, except for Cuba. And then there was the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the opening of Eastern Europe. Beyond that, democracy displaced authoritarian regimes in South Korea and Taiwan. We went from 80 democracies in the early 1970s to 130, or 140, 20 years later.

Of course, this hasn't all held up since then. We see today a kind of democratic recession. There have been reversals in important countries like Russia, where we see the return of a nasty authoritarian system without rule of law, or in Venezuela and some other Latin American countries with populist regimes.

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