Small Wars Journal

democracy

Exemplar, Not Crusader

Many of you have already seen this, but for those who haven't, I discussed warfare, foreign policy, and America's way ahead in a changing world with Time's Mark Thompson the other day

 

No matter what portion of the ideological spectrum Americans come at world problems from, their views are shaped in a way by the idea of the “end of history.” We think that political development has a single endpoint, that being liberal democracy.

I'm not arguing that there's a better endpoint. Instead, I’m arguing that America cannot get the world to that endpoint in the near term. America needs to be more humble in its foreign policies, more realistic than its current expectation of instant modernization without any instability, and more cognizant of the significant challenges it faces in getting its own house in order.

In a phrase, I argue that America should focus more on being an exemplar than a crusader.

First, the world is undergoing a massive wave of change, bringing rapid development and modernization to more people than ever before. I show that this change is intensely destabilizing. It took the West centuries to progress from the corrupt rule of warlords to liberal democracy.

There is no reason to believe that America can remake the world—or even a corner of it—in its image in the course of a few years. We are going to face a period of intensifying instability in the developing world and we need to understand that some things just cannot be neatly managed, much less controlled. We can’t bring on the end of history by using war to spread democracy and the welfare state (used in the academic, not pejorative sense).

Second, and perhaps more importantly because it affects us domestically and internationally, the welfare state is facing a crisis in the world’s leading democracies. This defies the notion that history is teleological—marching toward a determined end point. It would be no surprise, however, to the ancients who saw all governments as fallible and saw history as more of a cyclical thing.

You can read the rest here.