Over the past three decades the world has been transformed. In 1974, nearly three-quarters of all countries were dictatorships; today, more than half are democracies. Yet recent efforts to promote democracy have stumbled, and many democratic governments are faltering. Why?

Larry Diamond helps us understand why and how democracy actually progresses in his new book The Spirit of Democracy: The Struggle to Build Free Societies Throughout the World. The desire for democracy runs deep, he shows, even in very poor countries and in the turbulent Middle East. And through expanding economic freedom, civic mobilization, and the development of "liberation technology," even seemingly entrenched regimes like those in Iran and China could well become democracies within a generation.

Diamond also dissects the causes of the recent "democratic recession" in critical parts of the world, including Russia, Venezuela, Nigeria, and Pakistan. He traces many failed and failing democracies to bad governance, which disillusions publics and paves the way for authoritarian options. Corruption and misrule are in turn fostered by weak institutions and the flows of external rents, whether in the form of oil revenues or unconditional foreign aid to bad governments. Stabilizing democracy, he argues, must involve a broad campaign to strengthen institutions of political and financial accountability.

To defend democratic gains and spur a renewed democratic boom, Diamond urges the United States and its democratic allies to vigorously support good governance - transparency, the rule of law, individual rights, and shared economic prosperity - and to back those civic and political organizations that show commitment to the spirit of democracy.

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Larry Diamond is Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and founding co-editor of the Journal of Democracy. At Stanford University, he is professor by courtesy of political science and sociology, and he coordinates the democracy program of the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL), within the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI).