Daniel Larison recently wrote a short piece for The American Conservative called ‘Empires and Democracy‘ which makes several points that are worth noting. Larison’s article also fails to note some larger trends which need to be pointed out in discussing such things as democracy, imperialism and liberty.
What Larison Gets Right
- Liberty is in decline in many places around the planet. The author restricts his focus to Eastern Europe and the Third World, but liberty is on the decline here as well. Many in the US understand this, but they tend to view reality through partisan glasses. Therefore, Democratic voters tend to see liberty being curtailed only when Republicans are in office, ignoring or justifying encroachments on our freedom when their own party is at fault – and vice versa, of course.
- In many places around the globe the rise or fall of (generally the latter) liberty has nothing to do with US policy. As much as the US Establishment likes to herald the US with ridiculous, feel-good titles such as ‘the indispensable nation,’ not everything on this planet revolves around the decisions of politicians, bureaucrats and business elites in Washington, DC and New York.
- Democracy can often be against the interests of Middle Class people. If given the choice, Middle Class folks will often reject democracy in favour of stability, security, property rights (which are never safe under a democratic regime) and other concerns.
- US efforts to promote the ‘colour’ revolutions in Eastern Europe led to less freedom in some cases. In short, US intervention there was a failure.
- Many states around the world are technically empires. The Turkish state, for example, rules over a large Kurdish population that does not want to be part of Turkey. Dozens more examples of empires could easily be given. Look at any geographically-sizable state on earth and the chances are pretty good that it’s an empire.
- The US was already an empire before it acquired overseas territories.
- WWI was a struggle between the status quo (led by the three largest colonial empires on Earth) and the rising central powers which wanted to challenge the status quo. It was most certainly not a war to ‘make the world safe for democracy’ as Woodrow Wilson claimed.
What Larison Doesn’t Mention
- The US is a powerful supporter of many dictatorial, oppressive and undemocratic regimes (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other Gulf area states instantly come to mind).
- Democracy is incompatible with private property rights. Everything in a democracy is politicised and ‘on the table’ at all times. A democratic majority may steal, kill or oppress a minority. Hence, democracies are inherently unstable.
- Democracies are prone to imperialism. The history of the West following the French Revolution make this fact abundantly clear. Look at the US for example. The rise of the US empire (beginning with the westward expansion to the Mississippi, the crushing of the West Florida Republic, the conquest of Mexico City, the war against the seceded Southern States, the wars against the Plains Indian nations, etc.) coincided with a continual expansion of the franchise.
- US efforts to ‘promote democracy’ are often fronts for its elites’ geo-political ambitions (such as its efforts in WWI to support the British Empire and stop a rising Germany).