June 04, 2003

Throttling One's Inner Burke

Daniel Dreszner throttles his inner Edmund Burke and, convinced by Larry Diamond, turns sunny optimist about the prospects for a permanent wave of worldwide democratization:


Daniel W. Drezner: ...As a balm for these occasional worries, go read Larry Diamond's June 2003 article "Universal Democracy?" in Policy Review. Diamond's punchline:

The current moment is in many respects without historical precedent. Much is made of the unparalleled gap between the military and economic power of the United States and that of any conceivable combination of competitors or adversaries. But no less unique are these additional facts: This breathtaking preponderance of power is held by a liberal democracy. The next most powerful global actor is a loose union of countries that are also all liberal democracies. The majority of states in the world are already democracies.... There is no [other] model of governance with any broad normative appeal.... There is growing international legal and moral momentum... democracy... basic human right.... States and international organizations... intruding on sovereignty... to promote democracy.... In short, the international context has never mattered more to the future of democracy or been more favorable. We are on the cusp of a grand historical tipping point, when a visionary and resourceful strategy could -- if it garnered the necessary cooperation and effort among the powerful democracies -- essentially eliminate authoritarian rule over the next generation or two.

Posted by DeLong at June 4, 2003 09:51 PM | TrackBack

Comments

BUT, that is not a good thing for the simple reason that democracy is not itself a good thing - a good thing in itself, that is, for it is merely means to ends. And it has been known for a long time that elevating means above ends is a path to great harm; it is essentially what St. Paul used as his definition of "idolatry" (remember, language was much more allegorical in those days).

Those "grounds for optimism", read properly, are in fact grounds for apprehension; we run the risk that we will only get democracy rather than what we want to achieve through democracy, that we will get process rather than outcome. Look around for many current examples.

Posted by: P.M.Lawrence on June 4, 2003 11:27 PM

The U.S. is a liberal democracy? Oh dear, what has Diamond been smoking? Not that the EU is much better mind you. Someone needs to tell Diamond (and Dreszner) that democracies do not function on the principle of one dollar = one vote, which is what the largest proportion of decision-making in this country amounts to. Nor do democracies function on the principle that political candidates have to be pre-approved by a narrow olicharchy when the latter owns the communications media.

Before I get too cynical, it is true that corporate oligarchies are infinitely better systems than totalitarian dictatorships, especially those that are family-run. But please let's not have any illusions about the type of country we live in.

Posted by: andres on June 4, 2003 11:43 PM

Brad, two quibbles about formatting:

1) The left-hand column, which has the posts, is already narrower (IE and Netscape 7) than the right-hand column of links. Combined with block quotes, this ends up giving a 2" wide strip of text - quite a wast of space.

2) I think that you're overusing the '...'. They may have come from Drezner, in this case, but you've used them quite a bit. When a block consists of 5-10 words, followed by '...', why quote? Why not just summarize?

Thanks for hearing me out.

Posted by: Barry on June 5, 2003 03:42 AM

So I suppose that we have reached the End Of History, then. Someone ought to have throttled their inner berk.

Posted by: dsquared on June 5, 2003 05:30 AM

Are liberal democracies self replicating? We have a history of the US intervening in other countries when we don't like the rulers or the rulers are not playing by the rules of the US and the next strongest nations. In the past 30 years, we have invaded and overthrown governments in Grenada, Panama, Haiti (restored an elected leader) Kosovo, Afghanistan and now Iraq, not to mention covert interventions in Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba. Do these interventions lead to more Democracies?

Is there a difference between creating democracies and creating friendly governments that surrender to the will of the US? What have we created in Afghanistan. That looks more like chaos/anarchy/MadMax. My guess is that the US will be forced out of Iraq within 12 months.

Drezner looks at overwelming conventional military might and overlooks that there are strategies for defeating great powers. Maybe he should re-read the history of Vietnam or better yet the American Revolution. How did a great power like Britain in the late 1700s come to a quagmire in the colonies, win over 90% of all the battles, yet lose the war?

Posted by: bakho on June 5, 2003 06:07 AM

I guess the author hasn't considered the America under the Patriot Act , Attorney General Ashcroft (see the latest DoJ IG report, inter alia), and the policy directions a minority president is taking this supposed democracy. Since "democracy" is essentially a set of processes which enable the selection of "legitimate" leaders, in the 21st century money in campaigns matters, who owns and controls media matters, and to simply assert that, whee, we live in a "liberal democracy" is to ignore what is going on in front of our faces.

Charles

Posted by: charles on June 5, 2003 06:28 AM

" Nor do democracies function on the principle that political candidates have to be pre-approved by a narrow olicharchy when the latter owns the communications media... But please let's not have any illusions about the type of country we live in. "

Nor does the US function that way.

Posted by: Oroborous on June 5, 2003 06:38 AM

"This breathtaking preponderance of power is held by a liberal democracy." ... with 5 per cent of the population. Apartheid South Africa did democracy better than that.

Posted by: Jack on June 5, 2003 06:55 AM

"'This breathtaking preponderance of power is held by a liberal democracy.' ... with 5 per cent of the population. Apartheid South Africa did democracy better than that."

The huge difference is that the U.S. doesn't rule the world. Or even North America; for example, both the Canadian and the Mexican governments didn't send troops to Iraq.

The idea that the whole world should be run by a single government, using democracy, is very, very bad idea.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on June 5, 2003 09:58 AM

"....essentially eliminate authoritarian rule over the next generation or two."

Larry is probably right, especially if the global economy is healthy and the Washington consensus does not fall completely apart. (Sorry if this sounds hegemonistic.)

Still, a "generation or two" is an awfully long time. Lots of history to be written yet, apparently.

Posted by: Jim Harris on June 5, 2003 10:17 AM

"Much is made of the unparalleled gap between the military and economic power of the United States and that of any conceivable combination of competitors or adversaries.

"But no less unique are these additional facts: This breathtaking preponderance of power is held by a liberal democracy. The next most powerful global actor is a loose union of countries that are also all liberal democracies...."

And there is much less spending on military power by them all. Total world military spending has fallen sharply.

Since 1985 US military spending is down 18% and the spending of the rest of the world is down 35%.

The rest of the world's military spending has declined by about $350 billion -- in dollar terms, the equivalent of removing one full force the size of the US's military from the face of the earth.

Posted by: Jim Glass on June 5, 2003 10:27 AM

I agree with just about everything that's been posted here.

I also think that it's important to recognize the trend of history as opposed to static developments. Of course the power elites are going to try and cling to power as much as possible. Of course there will be years in which advances have been made and others for which we retreat.

I think the overall thrust of the world is towards more collaboration, diffusion of power in one form or another, emphasis on intellectual capital. It's going to be difficult to put a lid on intellect and expect that the economy will grow. Those that would like to control information are going to have a tough time of it when competing nations liberalize and are advantaged because of it. Nations that fail to grapple with health costs are going to be crippled also. I believe that there are economic costs associated with thwarting democracy, and as such some nations will advance while others less so. Note too that we have not had a war between superpowers since the 40s; though a few proxy wars. My fear of having to fight at all is somewhere between 0 and none.

Regardless of what happens in a given decade, I'm very optimistic for future generations.

Posted by: Saam Barrager on June 5, 2003 04:08 PM

"We are on the cusp of a grand historical tipping point..."

Isn't it pretty to think so...

Posted by: nameless on June 5, 2003 09:58 PM

"So I suppose that we have reached the End Of History, then."

That was a very poor title for a very insightful idea (I haven't read the book, but I've read summaries).

It's foolish to think that, because governments no longer oppress people and start wars, that "history" has ended. In fact, the really interesting part of human history will just have begun: the unlocking of the potential of 6+ billion free people.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on June 6, 2003 09:41 AM
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