July 22 • 02:41 AM

Understanding what we want them to know

November 07, 2007
Now that summer is over I thought I would share with you some of my summer reading which I am using as the basis of several columns. Today a look at the book called 'Democracy's Good Name' by Michael Mandelbaum.

For most of the world's history the prevailing form of government has not been democracy. Indeed, prior to the 1970s democratic governments worldwide were in the minority and seen mainly as something of an experiment. Until the 18th Century and the rise of the British empire, there were no nation state democracies on earth.

Even in America during the founding years of the republic many considered democracy dangerous to liberty and popular sovereignty would lead to mob rule, which was one reason why the founders added the requirement of an electoral college to presidential politics.

In Mandelbaum's recently published book called 'Democracy's Good Name,' Christian A. Herter, professor of American foreign policy at Johns Hopkins, traces the rise and risks of the world's most popular form of government which, by 2005, of 190 countries in the world, 119 of them were a democracy.

Mandelbaum sees democracy as a hybrid of popular sovereignty and liberty as the formula which leads to the opportunity for relative wealth and happiness. In his examination of democracy the author makes the point that democracy is more conducive to the creation of wealth, a prerequisite for it being a market economy, leading toward political freedom.

No democratic state, the author asserts, has ever attacked another democratic state and in recent years we have heard it argued that one way to fight terrorism is to turn tyrannical states into democracies. Mandelbaum agrees with the premise but is very careful to point out such a process is very difficult.

In his book, and a subsequent article in 'Foreign Affairs,' Mandelbaum has been careful to avoid any direct criticism of the Bush administration in its stated aim of "democracy promotion" as the central aim of American foreign policy—a goal which Bush shares with virtually all of his predecessors.

The major lesson for the president is that democracy cannot be deported by imposition but by example and the encouragement of free markets. According to Mandelbaum "the free market generates the organization of groups independent of the government…known collectively as civil society…(including through popular sovereignty) political parties and interest groups.

"Finally, the experience of participating in a free-market economy cultivates two habits that are central to democratic government, trust and compromise," Mandelbaum continues. "…The continued spread of democracy in the 21st century is no more inevitable than it is impossible as it is demonstrated by the decidedly varying prospects for this form of government in three important places where it does not exist: the Arab world, Russia and China."

Mandelbaum concludes by saying "…if and when democracy does come" to these nations, it will not be because of the deliberate and direct efforts at democracy promotion by the United States…It will grow wherever nondemocratic governments adopt the free-market system of economic organization."

This advice is sound not only for those who shape our foreign policy. It is also a good read for those interested in the development of our founding philosophy. In a world laced with competing ideologies, ethnic and religious faiths and the threat of terrorism, an understanding of our own system of government is critical to those who would seek its development elsewhere.

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