PW: The Future of Freedom is about the pitfalls of democracy. Why was it important to write about this now?

Fareed Zakaria: The United States is realizing that if you don't have a functioning legitimate government—it doesn't matter where in the world—it is a problem, not just for those other people, but for the United States, because those governments are illegitimate, they are repressive, they breed terrorism. So all of a sudden, the fundamental problem that Plato talked about thousands of years ago—how to construct a good government—becomes a pressing problem for every American. It struck me that we focused during the 1990s on economics and technology, but … politics is in many ways a more fundamental topic than economics. If you don't get the question of government right, no economic system is going to work and no social system is going to work.

PW: Why is too much democratization a bad thing?

FZ: When I say that, what I mean is that to simply hold lots of elections, or completely open up the process of government to all kinds of populist demands without checks or safeguards, is to miss what democracy is all about. The haste to press countries into elections over the last decade has been, in many cases, counterproductive. In countries like Bosnia, which held elections within a year of the Dayton peace accords, it only made more powerful precisely the kinds of ugly ethnic forces that have made it more difficult to build genuine liberal democracy there.

PW: What practical lessons are there in your book for U.S. nation-building in places like Afghanistan or Iraq?

FZ: The great test we are going to face in Iraq is that in order to make our nation-building legitimate, there will be great pressure to hold elections very quickly, because in holding elections, you're saying, "This is not an act of American imperialism." That's what will produce legitimacy. But what will produce effective government for Iraq is going to be the opposite: staying on there, building institutions that have never existed and rebuilding the ones that were ruined.

PW: Your last book, From Wealth to Power, was published by a university press. How has it been different to publish with Norton?

FZ: It's the difference between doing a very serious college play and being on Broadway. There was virtually no promotion for my first book. It just goes out there and it gets reviewed over months if not years. I've been lucky with that book. It has achieved success in the scholarly community, but there was never really much of an attempt at selling to the broad public—not that I'm saying there should have been; it's a specialized book. But with The Future of Freedom, we're trying very hard. I tried to make it the kind of book that anyone who is broadly interested can understand. There is nothing in it that would be inaccessible to a reader of a quality newspaper.

PW: You've been an academic, but now as a columnist and managing editor of Newsweek International, you seem to have cast your lot with journalism. Why is that?

FZ: I found that I love writing for a broad audience. You really feel like you're engaging in something important. In a way it's an example of what I talk about in the book. You can't have democracy without an informed and educated public, and I want to contribute to that process.