Democratic renewal will help the Free World ‘out of its defensive crouch’


Liberal democrats need to go on the offensive to counter the external authoritarians and internal illiberal forces undermining democratic institutions and liberal values, says a prominent commentator.

Ideas have power, not all ideas and not under all circumstances, but the idea of a liberal world order demonstrated its power at two turning points: the resurrection of the West after World War II and the expansion of the West after the fall of Communism in Europe in 1989, notes Ambassador Daniel Fried, a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Future Europe Initiative and Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center.

“The phrase ‘liberal world order’ sounds like the invention of a political science seminar. It may be better to call it the Free World Order, as the Free World—its values, institutions, and purposes—remains the best organizing framework for humanity in the twenty-first century,” writes , adding that we who believe in the Free World must help it out of its defensive crouch [and] convince our societies and leaders that:

  • our interests are best served as our values advance;
  • these values include the rule of law at home and a rules-based world, human rights and democracy, and the prosperity they generate;
  • nations’ interests advance, or decline, together; America’s success depends on the success of others; the nation-state, and even the Free World, are not ends in themselves, but earn legitimacy as they serve these higher purposes; and
  • the world’s great democracies must lead together to these ends.

For all its faults, liberal democratic capitalism has brought more wealth to more people than any other system in history, notes former Penn Kemble Fellow James Kirchick. “People who live in a golden age usually go around complaining how yellow everything looks,” observed poet Randall Jarrell. The same could be said about today’s critics of neoliberalism, he writes for The Los Angeles Times.

The liberal democratic world order is under assault from those who never joined “the West,” never fully democratized or embraced free markets and liberal values. They now seek to weaken and destroy the global web of international law and organizations, defensive military alliances, and multinational trade regimes, Peter Wehner and Thomas Melia write for the George W. Bush Institute’s Human Freedom Initiative, which is launching an effort to reaffirm core American principles of political democracy and free markets.

The initiative follows last week’s launch of a Coalition for Democratic Renewal charged with safeguarding liberal ideals, at the Forum 2000 Foundation in Prague, on the basis of a statement signed by prominent intellectuals and democracy advocates, such as Anne Applebaum, Gary Kasparov, Adam Michnik, Shlomo Avineri, [the National Endowment for Democracy’s] Carl Gershman, Jacques Rupnik, Xiao Qiang, Andrei Piontkovsky and Bernard-Henri Levy.

Many Americans have expressed skepticism about, or even hostility to, a foreign policy agenda to protect and advance liberal democratic values and institutions, “but the Free World vision is deeply embedded in American values,” adds Fried, special assistant and NSC senior director for Presidents Clinton and Bush and assistant secretary of state for Europe (2005–09).

Yet, he states, it is “no more difficult an endeavor than was making that case to war-weary America after 1945. In Europe, the task is similar, and requires renewed commitment to an outward-looking Europe and strong EU, growing and confident, by way of the nation-state properly conceived, and connected to Europeans,” he concludes. RTWT

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