An unexpected wave of democratization reshaped the world not so long ago. Could it happen again now?
When Portugal's Estado Novo dictatorship fell in the Carnation Revolution of 1974, and through months of political turmoil afterward, it wasn't particularly obvious that Portugal would end up a democracy: It had never been one before; in fact, for most of the 20th century it had been under authoritarian rule. Next door in Spain, the also-authoritarian regime of Francisco Franco regime seemed plenty stable. And throughout the West, journalists, intellectuals, and academics tended to assume that the whole Iberian peninsula -- along with most of Latin America -- wasn't fit for democracy on account of its Latin-Catholic social mores. Similar ideas about Asia's and Africa's ostensible incompatibility with democracy were super-common.
At the time of the Carnation Revolution, only 41 of the world's then-150 states were democracies, and most of these were first-world, advanced-industrial economies. But after Portugal pulled off its big democratic transition in the mid-'70s, Greece and Spain followed, leading to to what Samuel Huntington called the "third wave" of democratization globally: During the '80s, civilian governments replaced military rulers across Latin America, eventually including Chile; Ferdinand Marcos's dictatorship fell in the Philippines; military rule ended in South Korea; and martial law was lifted in Taiwan, beginning a 10-year democratic transition there. By 1990, between the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, most Eastern European countries were holding meaningful elections. Also in 1990 -- the year a watershed democratic transition got underway in Benin, and the same year Nelson Mandela was released from prison in Apartheid South Africa -- there were just three democracies on the African continent; only seven years later, the majority of African states were holding competitive elections. (For a fuller retrospective of the third wave, check out Larry Diamond's "Universal Democracy?")
Here and in other areas of the world hit by the third wave, there's been ideological resistance, endemic corruption, and daunting regression offsetting the advance of democracy. But of the almost 200 states in existence around the world today, 123 are democratic, and no form of government has anything close to the broad global legitimacy theirs does.
Until now, North Africa and the Middle East have remained mainly unmoved by this current (Israel, Lebanon, and our own attempts to engineer democratization in Iraq over the last decade notwithstanding). That seemed maybe to be changing in 2009, with Iran's Green Revolution. And it appears decisively to be changing now -- in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and potentially across the region.
No, none of the countries affected by today's pattern of fast-replicating protest movements is obviously in the midst of a real transition to democracy, and we can't really tell yet how close to one any of them might be. In some cases, as in Yemen, it's not even clear that anti-government agitation will organize itself around of democratic goals at all. And it remains entirely possible that the regional momentum building since the outset of this year's Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia will stall, or that the democratic hopes driving this momentum will end up crushed, whether abruptly by force or gradually by political failure.
But here at The Atlantic, the idea of democracy strikes us nevertheless as the right frame for looking at the broader story around these uprisings. This isn't just because the story is ultimately tough to scope in regional or cultural terms -- though it is: It's North African but also Middle Eastern; it's Arab but also Berber and Persian; it's Muslim but also secular. And it's not just because the story is ultimately impossible to imagine apart from its global history -- though it's that, too: Without the third wave having normalized democratic ideas internationally, and without the proliferation of Western social media, we wouldn't have the Arab social movements we now have. It's also because the story is already affecting global events as much as it's been affected by them: While the idea of democracy has rapidly gone from a latent aspiration among Arab peoples to a manifest threat to Arab political orders, Arab mass protest movements have almost as rapidly created powerful demonstration effects, influencing others not just throughout the region but around the world -- including scenes as geographically remote as Zimbabwe and China.
From the escalation of protests in Tunisia, through the revolution in Egypt, the current crisis in Libya, and the ongoing demonstrations in Yemen, Bahrain, and elsewhere, to the unprecedented ways in which social technology has changed the political game in country after country, The Atlantic has been on the regional story in the Middle East and North Africa with some of the sharpest and most creative reporting and analysis we have going. As of today, we've also launched a special section at TheAtlantic.com, The Democracy Report, bringing this coverage together from across our channels (International, Technology, Politics, and others). So check back, read around, and stay with the discussion -- down in the comments, on Facebook, or on Twitter.
Einstein’s gravitational waves rest on a genuinely radical idea.
After decades of anticipation, we have directly detected gravitational waves—ripples in spacetime traveling at the speed of light through the universe. Scientists at LIGO (the Laser Interferometic Gravitational-wave Observatory) have announced that they have measured waves coming from the inspiral of two massive black holes, providing a spectacular confirmation of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, whose hundredth anniversary was celebrated just last year.
Finding gravitational waves indicates that Einstein was (once again) right, and opens a new window onto energetic events occurring around the universe. But there’s a deeper lesson, as well: a reminder of the central importance of locality, an idea that underlies much of modern physics.
Most people know how to help someone with a cut or a scrape. But what about a panic attack?
Here’s a thought experiment: You’re walking down the street with a friend when your companion falls and gashes her leg on the concrete. It’s bleeding; she’s in pain. It’s clear she’s going to need stitches. What do you do?
This one isn’t exactly a head-scratcher. You'd probably attempt to offer some sort of first-aid assistance until the bleeding stopped, or until she could get to medical help. Maybe you happen to have a Band-Aid on you, or a tissue to help her clean the wound, or a water bottle she can use to rinse it off. Maybe you pick her up and help her hobble towards transportation, or take her where she needs to go.
Here’s a harder one: What if, instead of an injured leg, that same friend has a panic attack?
Today’s empires are born on the web, and exert tremendous power in the material world.
Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t had the best week.
First, Facebook’s Free Basics platform was effectively banned in India. Then, a high-profile member of Facebook’s board of directors, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, sounded off about the decision to his nearly half-a-million Twitter followers with a stunning comment.
“Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades,” Andreessen wrote. “Why stop now?”
After that, the Internet went nuts.
Andreessen deleted his tweet, apologized, and underscored that he is “100 percent opposed to colonialism” and “100 percent in favor of independence and freedom.” Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, followed up with his own Facebook post to say Andreessen’s comment was “deeply upsetting” to him, and not representative of the way he thinks “at all.”
The bureau successfully played the long game in both cases.
The story of law enforcement in the Oregon standoff is one of patience.
On the most obvious level, that was reflected in the 41 days that armed militia members occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns. It took 25 days before the FBI and state police moved to arrest several leaders of the occupation and to barricade the refuge. It took another 15 days before the last of the final occupiers walked out, Thursday morning Oregon time.
Each of those cases involved patience as well: Officers massed on Highway 395 didn’t shoot LaVoy Finicum when he tried to ram past a barricade, nearly striking an FBI agent, though when he reached for a gun in his pocket they finally fired. Meanwhile, despite increasingly hysterical behavior from David Fry, the final occupier, officers waited him out until he emerged peacefully.
Ben Stiller’s follow-up to his own comedy classic is a downright bummer, no matter how many celebrity cameos it tries to cram in.
You don’t need to go to the theater to get the full experience of Zoolander 2. Simply get your hands on a copy of the original, watch it, and then yell a bunch of unfunny topical lines every time somebody tells a joke. That’s how it feels to watch Ben Stiller’s sequel to his 2001 spoof of the fashion industry: Zoolander 2 takes pains to reference every successful gag you remember from the original, and then embellish them in painful—often offensive, almost always outdated—fashion. It’s a film that has no real reason to exist, and it spends its entire running time reaffirming that fact.
The original Zoolander, to be fair, had no business being as funny as it was—it made fun of an industry that already seems to exist in a constant state of self-parody, and much of its humor relied on simple malapropisms and sight gags. But it was hilarious anyway as a candid snapshot of the fizzling-out of ’90s culture. Like almost any zeitgeist comedy, it belonged to a particular moment—and boy, should it have stayed there. With Zoolander 2, Stiller (who directed, co-wrote, and stars) tries to recapture the magic of 2001 by referencing its past glories with increasing desperation, perhaps to avoid the fact that he has nothing new to say about the fashion industry or celebrity culture 15 years laters.
Jim Gilmore joins Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina, and leaves the race after a poor showing in New Hampshire.
Jim Gilmore’s candidacy this year was improbable—but even more improbable was the minor cult of personality that developed around it.
The former Virginia governor never had a chance. Not, like, in the sense of Lindsey Graham, a candidate with national standing but no path to the presidency. More in the George Pataki sense: a guy who had no real business in race, but was running anyway. Except that Gilmore made Pataki look like a juggernaut. Also, Pataki saw the writing on the wall and had the sense to drop out in late December. Gilmore soldiered on, and ended up as the last of the truly longshots to leave.
The result was that Gilmore turned into a sort of folk hero. Not for voters, mind you—he managed only 12 votes in Iowa and 125 in New Hampshire, and his campaign was funded largely by loans from himself. Because of his low support in the polls, Gilmore only made the cut for the very first kid’s-table debate in August, and then again for the undercard in late January. Other than that, he was shut out completely.
A robotic road safety worker in India, a sacrificial llama in Bolivia, a sea otter receives a valentine, a deadly earthquake in Taiwan, a leopard attack in India, and much more.
A murmuration of starlings over Israel, a robotic road safety worker in India, a sacrificial llama in Bolivia, border barriers between Tunisia and Libya, a sea otter receives a valentine, a deadly earthquake in Taiwan, the annual Shrovetide football match in England, a leopard attack in India, and much more.
The revolution that ended the reign of beards occurred on September 30, 331 b.c., as Alexander the Great prepared for a decisive showdown with the Persian emperor for control of Asia. On that day, he ordered his men to shave. Yet from time immemorial in Greek culture, a smooth chin on a grown man had been taken as a sign of effeminacy or degeneracy. What can explain this unprecedented command? When the commander Parmenio asked the reason, according to the ancient historian Plutarch, Alexander replied, “Don’t you know that in battles there is nothing handier to grasp than a beard?” But there is ample cause to doubt Plutarch’s explanation. Stories of beard-pulling in battles were myth rather than history. Plutarch and later historians misunderstood the order because they neglected the most relevant fact, namely that Alexander had dared to do what no self-respecting Greek leader had ever done before: shave his face, likening himself to the demigod Heracles, rendered in painting and sculpture in the immortal splendor of youthful, beardless nudity. Alexander wished above all, as he told his generals before the battle, that each man would see himself as a crucial part of the mission. They would certainly see this more clearly if each of them looked more like their heroic commander.
The number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged. Why?
On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament.
Stoner and five teammates were representing the United States in the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad. They figured they’d done pretty well over the two days of competition. God knows, they’d trained hard. Stoner, like his teammates, had endured a grueling regime for more than a year—practicing tricky problems over breakfast before school and taking on more problems late into the evening after he completed the homework for his college-level math classes. Sometimes, he sketched out proofs on the large dry-erase board his dad had installed in his bedroom. Most nights, he put himself to sleep reading books like New Problems in Euclidean Geometry and An Introduction to Diophantine Equations.
By mining electronic medical records, scientists show the lasting legacy of prehistoric sex on modern humans’ health.
Modern humans originated in Africa, and started spreading around the world about 60,000 years ago. As they entered Asia and Europe, they encountered other groups of ancient humans that had already settled in these regions, such as Neanderthals. And sometimes, when these groups met, they had sex.
We know about these prehistoric liaisons because they left permanent marks on our genome. Even though Neanderthals are now extinct, every living person outside of Africa can trace between 1 and 5 percent of our DNA back to them. (I am 2.6 percent Neanderthal, if you were wondering, which pales in comparison to my colleague James Fallows at 5 percent.)
This lasting legacy was revealed in 2010 when the complete Neanderthal genome was published. Since then, researchers have been trying to figure out what, if anything, the Neanderthal sequences are doing in our own genome. Are they just passive hitchhikers, or did they bestow important adaptations on early humans? And are they affecting the health of modern ones?