Advancing democracy at the root of American ‘exceptionalism’


The classic liberal internationalist vision of a global Pax Democratica lies at the root of American “exceptionalism,” according to Tony Smith, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Tufts University, and the author of Why Wilson Matters: The Origins of American Liberal Internationalism and Its Crisis Today.

Historically, or at least since President Woodrow Wilson, the United States has sought to spread democracy for the sake of world peace, but in an indirect manner, through international institutions, the rule of law, common values, and an elite possessed of a democratic vision, he writes for Project Syndicate.

Russian democracy activist Garry (right) also highlighted the notion of freedom and democracy as integral to US exceptionalism in recent congressional testimony.

But, he added: “The fear of making things worse has paralyzed the United States from trying to make things better,” he said.

Kenneth Wollack, president of the National Democratic Institute been in the business of promoting democracy worldwide for more than three decades and isn’t convinced that the new U.S. administration represents a dramatic departure from the tradition of advancing democracy, says analyst Francis Wilkinson.

“I think it’s way too early for people to be making judgments,” Wollack said:

He points out that concerns about President George W. Bush’s commitment to global democracy movements — as a candidate Bush had disparaged “nation-building” — were quickly rendered moot after Bush launched full-scale wars under the banner of democracy…… Democracy promotion, he said, is now deeply woven into the fabric of international relations, especially for the U.S.

“Every U.S. embassy around the world has democracy as part of its agenda,” he said.

Defending and advancing democracy in emerging markets presents distinctive challenges, according to panelists at a recent forum of the Center for International Private Enterprise:

  • First, they said equality of opportunity must be actively promoted. Regulatory environments ought to ease access to starting a business. Anti-monopoly laws are essential to ensuring a level playing field, otherwise one ends up with crony capitalism. ….
  • Panelists also stressed the importance of democratic rule of law. One problem occurs when the laws are not taken seriously. ….
  • Finally, for the market economy to sustain democracy, it must be accompanied by transparency and accountability. ….

“We need to respond to the attack on democracy in new ways,” said Carl Gershman (above), President of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and “defend the inter-dependence of liberal democracy and the market economy, without which economic progress and human freedom will not be able to survive.” RTWT

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