The world, especially recently, really doesn’t seem to be responding to the widely held notion by US citizens post-WWII that American style freedom and democracy is the best of all possible political and social arrangements, especially for all the less industrially developed nations of the world. In fact it increasingly appears our political arrangement was only made possible by a fairly unique set of historical circumstances, and is somewhat anomalous.
Is bringing US style freedom and democracy to the world a naive and presumptuous notion that we have to let go of, or do we need to keep persevering?
Seems to me that part of the problem in the Vietnam War was that a lot of people didn’t care what kind of government they had. The rice farmers just wanted to do their thing. Communism? Democracy? Call it whatever you want as long as I get to farm my rice.
That’s an oversimplification, but I think it speaks to the problems we had there. We found ourselves dealing with a sometimes hostile, sometimes friendly, but often simply indifferent local populace.
In my view, it was unquestionably naive of the U.S. to expect a large amount of support for democratization in Vietnam.
It is naive and pretty stupid. Specially since it is quite obvious that America is not doing that at all but just using it as an ostensible cover to further America’s own interests. No one is buying the explanation except some Americans.
And I would say that even in America “American style democracy” is not as popular as many seem to like to believe, even in America. Seeing the generally low voter turnout and the disinterest of many people, especially among the poorer classes, I would be quite certain that most of those people would gladly give up their right to vote (which they do not exercise) in exchange for an increase in their standard of living.
Ask the lower earning 50% if they would give up the right to vote in exchange for free health care and see what they say.
Not only that but generally any culture and country is going to resent being governed or having their government imposed by strangers. America just does not seem to get this in spite of its simplicity.
The notion that “we bring freedom” is just for American domestic consumption. Nobody else buys it.
One could argue that American-style democracy came from the well-off portion of the colonial society rather than as a mass movement. Adams, Hancock, Jefferson, et al were not the common folk. It made more difference to the pocket book of large land owners and rich merchants than it did to the tradesmen and farmers just trying to get by.
Until the economics of places like Afghanistan and rural Iraq change there is probably no great incentive to change the traditional political system.
I have to agree with Sailor, here. Americans have a hard time telling the difference between personal and national freedom. Plenty of people around the world don’t care who governs them, so long as it isn’t foreigners.
Your assumption that the US invades countries to bring freedom and Democracy is the naive one.
The US invaded Iraq (wrongly) because of WMD’s.
The US invaded Afghanistan (rightly) because they were hunting for a major terrorist who had attacked the US.
They attacked Saddam when he invaded Kuwait (a major oil producing country - if it had no oil, no troops would have been sent).
The US fought in Vietnam because of the ‘threat’ of domino Communism.
A military dictatorship in Burma has imprisoned Aung San Suu Kyi for the last 13 years. She was the winner of a democratic election (and has also won a Nobel Peace prize).
However no US troops have been sent (nor ever will be sent), because the Burmese military sell oil to the US.
Ask people if they would like to:
-practice whatever religeon they like
-work whatever kind of job they are qualified for
-say pretty much whatever they want about whatever they want
-not have the government or anyone else arbitrarily confiscate their property on a whim
-not be jailed without a fair and just due process
Most people would probably answer “yes” for all of these. At least for themselves.
Does that mean they want our American style of executive/legislative/judicial branch government and 2 party system? Probably not.
That sounds about right. Different countries have different forms of government. Some of them actually seem to work. Constitutional monarchy, monarchy, various forms of republic, commonwealth, etc. Even a dictator, provided he is a benign dictator can fit the bill.
We can’t bring, or force our brand of democracy on anyone, or we would be seen as invaders and conquerors. We would, if anything, convince these people that they do NOT want to be like us, because then we are the Enemy.
What in the world are you talking about? I’m talking about cultural memes and general philosophical beliefs. Where in my OP in any way, shape, form or fashion did I intimate that the US is “invading countries” with the goal of forcing US style democracy down their throats. “Bringing” something to other cultures doesn’t always mean at the point of a gun. I’m talking about the cultural attitudes and the US notion that the disseminating US style democracy is a good thing for everyone. How you morphed this into the main operating rationale for the US going to war vs the realpolitik reasons you cited is kind of a mystery.
I think it’s pretty clear that a lot of people around the world are interested in democracy. To what extent you want or need the “American-style” modifier is unclear. The USA was an early adopter of democracy, but didn’t invent the idea, there are plenty of different ways of implementing it and, of course, as noted above if it’s imposed from the outside it ain’t democracy.
I misinterpreted your post and accept you didn’t make that claim.
Unfortunately the US has claimed that it was ‘bringing freedom and democracy’ by invading the countries I mentioned.
This is (like it or not) the US reputation - as the ‘World’s Policeman’, not the ‘World’s example of classic Government’.
I realise that many US citizens think their system is the best and everybody else wants it.
But it’s hard to see why else countries would adopt exactly the US model. The US was formed out of a Union of various States in response to a crass overseas Government. US States have clearly defined rights - which usually wouldn’t apply elsewhere.
There are Parliaments and Monarchies that have lasted for nearly a thousand years. The British have passed on their Parliament to various countries formerly in the British Empire.
One party states and dictatorships are also typical in parts of the World that have very different history to the US.
Even more basic and important than democracy is the concept of Human Rights. And yet America has shown with its actions that it only pays lip service to Human Rights and Democracy and is very willing to support dictators who violate both. So let us say that America is not very convincing with its actions and arguments. The world sees it more as self-serving propaganda.
Because that’s what people see. Because that’s what America does. America has made it crystal clear that it has no actual interest in spreading democracy and freedom, American style or otherwise.
So when you say “Do people want American style democracy and freedom”, that’s effectively a synonym for asking if they want to dominated by the U.S. Or invaded by it. Because in the real world, that’s what phrases like “American style democracy and freedom” mean; code words for being crushed by America. You may have meant to ask if people want a system like America, but that’s not what a lot of people will hear.
As for whether or not all people want American style democracy and freedom, the answer is no. First, plenty of people want democracy and freedom, just not “American style”. Second, plenty of people ( or the ideology/religion they support ) are in a position of advantage that would be undercut by democracy or freedom. And third, plenty of people would be better served by democracy and freedom, but don’t realize it; in no small part because of America rampaging across the globe. They hear “democracy and freedom”, and they think it means anarchy and mass death, and listen to the dictator who promises order and survival.
I recall reading – sorry, no cite – about a study or survey undertaken in Iraq just after the overthrow of Sadaam, and just before it became undeniably obvious that everything was going pear-shaped. The purpose was to explore the aspirations which Iraqis had for their own country and society, and part of the study involved asking people to nominate other countries whose society and government they would like Iraq’s to resemble.
The US did not rate highly. The Gulf States were the commonest ideal. Prosperity, stability and social cohesion were apparently of more significance than individual freedom and social diversity.
The might answer “yes” to those questions, but they might also feel that, had other questions been asked, they might have answered “yes” as strongly, or more strongly. These questions focus entirely on the situation of the individual, but say nothing about the community, and about the relationships and obligations that people have to one another, and to reason from these questions to a preference for US-style democracy would itself betray a certain set of assumptions which might not be universally held.
To explore whether people want their societies to resemble the US, you need to look not just at things that the US is generally regarded as doing well, but at things where the US might not be so universally praised (even leaving aside US foreign policy). Do people want a society that has US-style imprisonment levels? Income disparity? US levels of social and community cohesion? Do they like the balance the US strikes between, say, freedom of speech and the control of pornography? Do they favour the US combination of strict formal separation of church and state with overt religiosity in public life?
I guess I’m the gray area guy in this debate. I agree that the effort to install (not instill) American democracy is almost always useless.
On the other hand, the notions involved in American or British democracy are hugely important, especially in countries with an American or British colonial past. The best example is the judiciary in South Africa during apartheid. The existence of a relatively independent judiciary there meant that oftentimes the worst abuses of the government were disallowed, and, importantly, individual cases were thrown out of court by the judges. Even though the Reagan Administration did very little to work against apartheid until the Senate forced it to in the late 80’s, to its credit, it supported the independence of the South African judiciary mostly from its begining, and that saved an unkown number of lives.
“American-style” includes a separation of church and state, a view that has its roots in the West’s experiences in the Crusades, wherein Europeans first learned not to give clerics control of the military. The rest of the world never had an experience where this lesson was the result; in fact, the Islamic world, which ultimately won that conflict, drew the opposite lesson, as well as another: “Don’t trust Christians.” “Don’t trust Americans” is an extension of this.
Americans recall two wars where we invaded France and most of the locals were happy to see us. We were then shocked when we invaded Cuba, Haiti, Somalia and Iraq and the plurality of locals either shot at us or helped people who did.
I think both extremes are wrong. Regardless of whether America practices what it preaches, the idea of American style democracy meaning freedoms of speech & press, strong checks and balances, a critical press, citizenry living free from fear and a tolerance for the rights of others is a deeply appealing concept to a large proportion of people, as witnessed by the vast numbers of immigrants who come here just for those things.
At the same time, one should recognize the different cultural values of other countries and how, in some countries, harmony may be prized much higher above individual freedoms and not everyone believes in equality for all people.
I think both extreme cultural relativism and extreme paternalism are both too simplistic for an issue such as this.