Spreading Democracy

The world's most dangerous idea

| November 4, 2004

While adjusting to the ever-present threat of terrorism, the United States is slowly waking to the idea that some things are simply beyond its control. Democracy has kept things running fairly smoothly at home, but outside the white picket fence that surrounds its borders, America faces a league of nations that is increasingly unwilling to accept its hegemonic worldview.

America's assumption that countries can and should be remade in its image is one that ignores the complexities and pitfalls inherent in such a radical shift. A state cannot practice effective democracy without consensus, for example, as citizens in countries such as Sri Lanka, Czechoslovakia, and Northern Ireland can attest. In fact, often times a people's mandate in countries riddled with social and economic strife can lead to systematic dysfunction, corruption, even fascism.

It's also difficult to separate the interests of a 'liberating' state from its supposedly altruistic motives. Many Americans wax poetic about Iraqi freedom and the spread of democracy, but many other despotic regimes thrive because they lack strategic or economic interest. The limitations of America's democracy are not lost on those on the receiving end of its foreign policy initiatives either; the decision to invade Iraq was made not by the American electorate, after all, but by a small cabal of the wealthy and powerful. And, speaking of Iraq, it's difficult to champion democracy as a harbinger of peace when you're dropping bombs on those you profess to be liberating.
-- Brendan Themes

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