Does democracy matter? Call for renewed conviction


Today’s publication of a new book on democracy support occurs as we approach the 35th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s Westminster Address – the founding text for the democracy assistance effort, notes Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy.

The period when the Westminster Address was delivered was also not an easy time for democracy, he told the launch of Does Democracy Matter? The United States and Global Democracy Support, an event co-sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson Center and the Foreign Policy Research Institute. A sign of the times was Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s statement in an essay written in 1976, on the occasion of the U.S. bicentennial, that “democracy is where the world was, not where the world is going,” said Gershman.

Thus, it was to rally the American people and the democratic world that Reagan went before the British Parliament to call for “a global campaign for freedom.” In retrospect, of course, we can see that this period, troubled as it was, was less bleak than it appeared at the time, he noted:

The question is whether the projection of democratic confidence and vision had anything to do with the coming collapse of communism in the captive nations of Central Europe and in the Soviet Union.  It’s hard to know, but surely it can be said that Reagan had seized the rhetorical – and possibly even the political – advantage when he declared that “the march of freedom and democracy…will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people.”

“Democracy support needs to be done better. We need to move away from the field-based model in partially- and un-free countries, and move towards the grant model pioneered by NED,” the Atlantic Council’s Melinda Haring, a contributor to the book, told the meeting.

“There are many other ideas in the Westminster Address that remain relevant today, but I want to call attention to just one of them,” said Gershman, citing Reagan’s commitment to what he called “the competition of ideas and systems,” and his belief that “the ultimate determinant in the struggle now going on for the world will not be bombs and rockets, but a test of wills and ideas, a trial of spiritual resolve: the values we hold, the beliefs we cherish, the ideas to which we are dedicated.”

“We’re not doing very well today in this arena of competition, and therefore we have to think very hard not just about how to provide democracy assistance more effectively and efficiently, but about how we can reignite the flame of democratic conviction, especially among young people,” he concluded. RTWT.

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