28 November 2003

Past failures are where the real lessons lie for democracy's new enforcers

On the other hand, there is another American experience which seems much more relevant. Long before the US became a global hegemon, it was a regional hegemon in the Caribbean.

Yet from 1900 to this day the region has not produced one genuine, stable democracy. Neither was the US able to lay the foundations for a viable democracy during the three decades that it ruled the Philippines.

That record must surely raise legitimate questions about the capacity of the US - or any other state for that matter - to engage in successful 'nation building' today, in what would be much shorter periods of time.

As they still represent my views, I shall use some words I wrote some years ago, when enthusiasm for exporting democracy was just building up in Washington: 'Americans of all political persuasions believe profoundly that it is their right and duty - indeed their destiny - to promote freedom and democracy in the world.

'It is a noble and powerful impulse. But acting on it ... is a complicated and delicate business, and the dangers are many. Success requires that this impulse be balanced against, and where necessary, circumscribed by, other interests that the United States must necessarily pursue, more mundane ones like security, order and prosperity. For these represent not merely legitimate competing claims but the preconditions for a lasting extension of democracy.

'Success requires, too, an awareness of the intractability of a world that does not exist merely in order to satisfy American expectations. While determination and purposefulness are important ingredients in any effective policy, the attempt to force history in the direction of democracy by an exercise of will is likely to produce more unintended than intended consequences.

'The successful promotion of democracy calls for restraint and patience, a sense of limits and an appreciation of the wisdom of indirection, a profound understanding of the particularity of circumstances.

'As Thomas Carlyle once put it, 'I don't pretend to understand the universe - it's a great deal bigger than I am ... People ought to be modester.'

Let's all be modester.

No comments: