Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Both Left And Right Agree That Democracy Nation Building Is Failing

On September 1, 2021, Michael McFaul tweeted “That the US benefits more from democracy in the world does not mean that American leaders today have the ideas or means to promote democracy abroad.  After fourteen years of democratic recession worldwide we should be humble in our proclamations & ambitions.”  McFaul served as adviser to President Obama, US Ambassador to Russia, is Director of the Freeman Spogli Institute at Stanford (which houses the Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law), Professor of Political Science at Stanford, and Hoover Institution Senior Fellow.

On September 5, 2021, Peter Berkowitz wrote in a Real Clear Politics column that “promoting democracy and freedom are beyond America’s capabilities…”  Berkowitz served as Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. State Department under Trump and is a Hoover Senior Fellow.

 

Democracy specialist Larry Diamond has chronicled the growing democracy recession to which McFaul refers.  Diamond spent time in Iraq after Hussein was overthrown, headed the CDDRL for nearly a decade, and is a Senior Fellow at both Freeman Spogli and the Hoover Institution.

 

McFaul recommends that NGOs be given priority in helping autocracies with health care, education and other social services.  Berkowitz suggests that U.S. foreign policy should not threaten autocracies with regime change, but rather encourage them to allow more economic freedom and civil liberties.

 

Diamond blames the democracy recession since 2015 primarily on President Trump.  He recommends some changes, such as weighted voting, but places top priority on stopping Trump from regaining the White House.  He argues that the U.S. must focus on restoring its own democracy before it can advocate it abroad.

 

Condoleezza Rice’s 2017 book, Democracy:  Stories From The Long Road To Freedom, examined six cases of democracy nation building.  Between the time she started her research and  the date of publication, three of the six were disintegrating.  Rice served as National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush, Secretary of State in the Bush Administration, and is currently Director of the Hoover Institution.

 

McFaul recommended that President Biden establish a Cabinet-level Department of Democracy.  President Biden recently announced that the White House will host two International conferences this December and next to study democracies and then implement a carefully-developed program to promote democracy nation building.

 

The effort to build democratic nations took off with decolonization in the 1960s.  It has since grown into an industry of academic and think tank centers, NGOs, and international organizations supported by Western governments.  Thousands of people have participated and millions of dollars have been spent in this effort, with diminishing results.

 

Nearly fifty years ago, Harvard Professor Kenneth Shepsle and I coauthored Politics In Plural Societies:  A Theory of Democratic Instability (1972), reissued with a Postscript in 2008.  The book is available for free download here.  If the above-mentioned individuals have not read the book, perhaps they might read it as they refashion their ideas on the hazards and pitfalls of democracy promotion.

4 comments :

adn said...

Since the end of WWII there have been at least four successful Democracy-Building efforts, but none since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Chick said...

The problem is with the ascendance of direct democracy. The increased participation in policy decisions by more people is its Achilles heel. Broadening the franchise to include younger voters, or empowering special interests, makes elections a gamble, empowering the media to play its emotional game in swaying elections. We have to admit that popularity empowers the average which tends to be non-thinking. The Founding Fathers recognized this defect, and fashioned an indirect democracy, one that muted emotions of the masses, and favored judgement, through the electoral college, that is, requiring elected state officials to nominate electors who then voted as representatives of the state. consistent with the republican structure of the central federal government.

David R. Henderson said...

Nice to see some humility from Michael McFaul.

Tom Grey said...

I'd expect that "democracy building" only works AFTER market capitalism has been established for half a generation or more.

In a free market, people agree to buy & sell, or agree to NOT buy or sell. With lots of desired stuff available at a price, and the more you buy, the less money you have left - there are trade offs.

Good democracy needs folks who have lived with budget constrained trade-offs. Otherwise the state degenerates into tribalistic grabbing as much gov't cash as the voted majority can grab. Something that also happens to some extent in all OECD democracies, but is worse in less developed countries.