Stephanie Mott makes some excellent points in ‘What are we promoting: Democracy or Disgust?’ She is absolutely right to distinguish between what ought to be separate goals of

US

foreign policy: promotion of democracy, and national security (though one could argue that a proper pursuit of the first contributes to the second). As Stephanie points out, President Bush originally justified his war in

Iraq

as means to security – only later did it become a ‘democratizing’ mission. It is difficult to overstate the damage that Bush did to the

United States

’ reputation as a world leader in the promotion of democracy with that conflation. However, I will leave that point to another blog. Unfortunately, I fear that it may crop up time and again in the next four years. Here, I would like to make a comment or two on the

United States

’ commitment to spreading democracy.

Stephanie mentions the democratic peace theory as justification for “ongoing promotion of democracy, human rights and the alleviation of poverty.” The democratic peace theory asserts that democracies will rarely, if ever, go to war against each other. Initially proposed by Immanuel Kant, this theory is based on an impressive, albeit contested, body of statistical evidence supporting at least the claim that democracies never have gone to war against one another, and have tended to conflict less frequently with each other than with non-democratic states. Scholars have appealed to both the structural aspects of democracies and democratic norms to explain this phenomenon. However, an alternative account of democratic peace has arisen in recent years. Fareed Zakaria, among others, has pointed to shared liberal ideology, rather than democracy, as the root of the peace among democracies. Zakaria’s work, in addition to challenging the presumptions of the democratic peace theory, should force us to take another look at why we support ‘democratization’.

Zakaria describes ‘liberal democracy’ as follows: “a political system marked not only by free and fair elections, but also by the rule of law, a separation of powers, and the protection of basic liberties of speech, assembly, religion, and property.” Zakaria goes on to note that there is no necessary connection between democracy and liberalism – in fact, there are many instances of illiberal democracies. As might be suspected, many Americans (and others) who support the spread of democracy are at least as concerned (if not more so!) with the spread of liberalism: the rule of law, the protection of human rights, etc.

So what does this mean for our foreign policy? Zakaria offers an insightful comment: “it suggests a certain humility. While it is easy to impose elections on a country, it is more difficult to push constitutional liberalism on a society…If a country holds elections, Washington and the world will tolerate a great deal from the resulting government, as they have with Yeltsin, Akayev, and Menem…there is life after elections, especially for the people who live there.” Democracy is not, in other words, a cure-all. While the

United States

would do well to pursue the course that Stephanie suggests (promoting democracy overseas), we must not forget our commitment to liberalism in our haste to ensure elections.

Stephanie, as noted above, points to two

US

foreign policy goals: national security and democratization. I took the risk of assuming, throughout the course of this rather brief discussion, that the

United States

actually is committed to the spread of democracy – hence my desire to suggest a way of pursuing it. Even in case of

US

apathy, however, Zakaria’s work is immensely relevant. There are many actors on the international scene, governments and not, working to promote democracy: it is absolutely crucial that they consider the true ends they are pursuing.

For reference: Zakaria’s article, ‘The Rise of Illiberal Democracy’, can be found in the Nov-Dec 1997 issue of Foreign Affairs

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