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Thursday, April 10, 2003

New on the bookshelf.

I'm looking forward to digging into Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism, Joseph S. Nye Jr.'s The Paradox of American Power: Why the World's Only Superpower Can't Go It Alone, and Fareed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad. That ought to keep me busy.

I've been meaning to write about Tony Judt's New York Review essay "America and the World," in which I was most struck by this comment on Zakaria's book (in a comparison to Michael Mandelbaum's The Ideas That Conquered the World):

Zakaria's skepticism is a nice antidote to Mandelbaum's Wilsonian picture. It also suggests that if we have lived in a peaceful world these past fifty years, this has little to do with democracy. It is liberal states—states that have enshrined the constitutional protection of liberties—that don't go to war with one another. Democracies may or may not be warlike—they haven't actually been around long enough to draw conclusions (though Alexander Hamilton thought "popular assemblies" were unlikely to prove peace-loving, and nothing in the past two centuries has proven him obviously wrong). In any case, the world itself is not a democracy, so there is nothing even in Mandelbaum's thesis to preclude international war, particularly between liberal and illiberal democracies. And, for liberal and illiberal democracies alike, it is nuclear weapons rather than public opinion that have most effectively inhibited aggression.
Self-generating liberal democracies are historically unusual, even in the West. Like capitalism, they require, in order to succeed, indigenous antecedent qualities that cannot be retroactively supplied. Democratic institutions grafted from abroad onto culturally distinctive and impoverished nations have a mixed track record. America's rediscovered mission, to make the world "safe for democracy," thus risks proving self-defeating, even in its more plausible guise as a mission to make the world safe for Americans. And in the absence of any accompanying ambition to make the rest of the world richer, safer, healthier, or better educated, this mission stands a good chance of constructing and defending some quite unwholesome "democracies."

Sobering and thought-provoking stuff, especially for religious liberals who think that "democracy" is synonymous with "liberty." More on this soon . . .

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 10 April 2003 at 10:35 PM

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