Exporting Democracy: a Necessity or an Idealization?

Exporting democracy has long been a controversial issue. In this article, [name redacted] and Max will be arguing about the importance of American democracy and the necessity of spreading America's political system to the rest of the world.
Andrew KimManaging Editor


Exporting American democracy has been called “arrogant,” [1] cruel, and is often likened to imperialism. Though American democracy may be arrogant, it is also an important gift to America and to the rest of the world.

Whether America is entirely successful in exporting democracy to other nations is not the question; rather whether it 1) serves America’s national interests and 2) improves the countries in question, in contrast to their previous systems.

A country’s responsibility is to better its standing in the world, and to do so requires friendly partners. America exports democracy, our own system, because we want countries to align with us, and democratic countries are much more likely to do so. 

Exporting ideology, making sure foreign governments are favorable to its own is within every country’s right. In this world, where the law of the jungle rules, protecting the interests of your own country is the number one priority. Now, one may mention the foreign quagmires America has found itself stuck in while trying to promote democracy. However, these instances are dwarfed by the number of successes American democracy has brought abroad, and how many allies America has made out of potential enemies.

Admittedly, misadventures in the Middle East, Vietnam, and South America show that success rates aren’t 100%; however, people tend to cite these examples without using a baseline comparison. It is much more useful to compare these failures to the much larger number of successes.

After World War II, America established numerous democracies in Europe. Countries that were formerly run by fascist dictators became American allies, not only because they were on the Western half of the Iron curtain, but also because their people saw that the freedom and values exemplified by American soft power, were superior to those of any other system that existed in the world at the time. These countries, along with numerous others, became American allies, partners in the quest for freedom across humanity. Partners that share common values, such as the same political system, stay partners. Promoting democracy is just another way for the United States to ensure its network of alliances, de facto and de jure, throughout the world. Exporting democracy, purely from an American standpoint, helps this great nation better thrive in the world. Sure, many American partners in Europe and Asian have slightly different versions of democracy, but they still uphold democratic values.

American democracy, with its relatively stable two-party system also prevents fringe parties like Alternative for Germany from gaining seats in parliament, as the party did in the 2017 Federal Elections [2]. A fringe party with such extremist views would never gain that much power in the United States.

American democracy also helps its importers. When foreigners look to America, they see booming industries, the best universities in the world, remarkable affluence and opportunities for the average, and a country that serves as the global leader. This admiration holds true throughout most of the developing world, even in countries that have deep ties to America’s adversaries [3]. No other country has all these attributes. Norway may have incredible wealth per citizen, but has no real leadership ability and relies on America for defense through NATO (let’s not pretend that they could defend themselves). China may also have a leadership role in the world, and be an industrial leader, but the average Chinese citizen lacks the wealth the average American has. The way foreigners look to America is the way foreigners look to our political system, which preserves our laissez-faire economic system and the wishes of our people.

There are two reasons why American democracy can be successfully exported.

American democracy is about the people influencing policy from a bottom-up movement, rather than the top-down policy formulation of most countries. Donald Trump’s election is one example; his opponent outspent him by $400 million [4]. When American democracy fails, it is because the people of the country are not ready for democracy. I freely admit that democracy has thresholds of human capital that need to be met, and in those cases, any type of government is likely to fail without improvement in human capital. But when countries that do have sufficient human capital point to failed democracies, it is simply an excuse for not implementing democracy.

Throughout Western Europe and Northeast Asian countries, countries that were previously under fascist regimes, or only had pseudo democracies, greatly strengthened as a result of democracy. With free and open elections—a key part of what separates American democracy from pseudo-democracies (e.g. pre-WW2 France or today’s Russia)—a country’s leadership has to produce results, (i.e., better living standards for their people) in order to be reelected.  

" In essence, American democracy operates much like evolution—only the best political groups survive elections, ensuring that a country’s leadership continually improves."

American-style democracies have many successes, but they are often overlooked in favor of the few examples of failed democracies.

American democracy, when spread, is good for the United States as a country; for those countries that are capable of effective government, it greatly improves people’s living standards and their freedom to the pursuit of happiness.


AnonymousStaff Writer


Elite rule is an ancient and time-honored concept. Societies have long been controlled by the few, and cast in the image of the educated, rich and powerful. Yet, in recent centuries, dictatorial rule has fractured, as countries from Latin America to the Middle East have rejected historical social hierarchy and political rule in favor of democracy. Trading the bullet for the ballot box, revolutionaries have ‘overcome’ elite suppression through democratic process. However, in this process, many of these countries have simply just jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Rather than recovering and redistributing wealth, influence, and rights, democracy has simply reinforced existing boundaries, allowing elites to retain, and in some cases, consolidate more power. In newly formed democracies, nations highly divided by class conflict, and regions with uneducated and uninformed electorates, democracy can share and exacerbate societal flaws. It is, in other words, far from universally perfect.

Forming and legitimizing the new balance of power in a newly democratic region can prove indicative of the long-term success and moral basis of the government. Boris Yeltsin’s rule and Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, which were both marked by power-consolidation and media manipulation, exemplify flawed democratic transition. Boris Yeltsin, partnering with opportunistic oligarchs, divided old Soviet industry among a privileged few—leaving the Russian people to starve, while the rich accumulated massive fortunes. Upon his rise to power, Putin allowed these oligarchs to stay in control, legitimizing elite rule [5]. The splicing of power among highly-privileged individuals and the enforcement of existing rule under the guise of political freedom are typical within newly formed democracies. Similar transitions to democratic rule in Latin America enforce the notion that existing structures and figures must be replaced if democracy is to succeed.

New democracies often fall into authoritarian regimes in regions without sufficient political balance. Venezuela, for instance, has fallen into a dictatorial power vacuum just years after it was posed to lead the new free world under its socialist hero Hugo Chavez.

"Years of apathy have resulted in little social change and rigged elections. Venezuela has failed to shed its former social divisions and after a tank in oil prices, it has fallen into poverty. This downward spiral has been unchecked and seemingly unstoppable. It is a reflection of a region without proper political opposition or democratic tradition."

“Venezuela is not just an example of the failings of socialist revolutions, it is an illustration of what can happen when a crowd-pleasing populist politician attacks the free press, demonizes opponents, proclaims a militant nationalism and creates an alternative version of reality based on self-serving lies. The urge to make heroes out of bombastic demagogues is an affliction that affects people on the right as much as those on the left” (David Horsey, LA Times). Venezuela’s socialist party, which quickly came to rule in 1998, had crushed opposition before gaining the structural capacity to properly run its country. This is a strong indicator that democracy is likely to fail in the region. Democracy is similarly likely to fail in face of extreme heterogeneity. Comparative sociologists Wolfgang Merkel and Bridgette Weiffen argue that cleavages in identity, interest and ideology can hinder democratic process by splicing the very conception of a common good. Democracy relies on the guidance of its citizens. In a region sufficiently divided by class or social differences, there may not be an ideal society to which a democracy can aim towards. “Many of the recent severe internal conflicts and humanitarian crises around the world, as in Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo, East Timor, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Darfur, Sudan, to mention just some of the most prominent examples, exhibit an ethnic component” [6]. In these regions, democracy is likely to lead to minority or majority rule, and more importantly, the suppression of opposing views. Adding democratic process in regions as divided as these is adding fuel to a powerful spark which draws its energy from the very ideological gap splicing the country. Political apathy represents the flip-side of this coin. Democracy requires an engaged and informed populous. It requires citizens to stay in contact with their political leaders and for those leaders to listen. Unfortunately, this propensity to action is not commonplace in many countries, whose populations are either born or slowly become apathetic. In the United States, voter turnout for congressional elections has dropped by nearly 30% in the last half century. Even in “new democracies, voter participation has fallen, as in Serbia, where turnout in the presidential election plunged 22 percent from 2008 to 2012” [7]. These statistics shed light on the lack of importance many democratic nations place in their rule. Corruption is bound to spread in a country like Russia, in which only 16% of citizens claim to care whether their nation is ruled democratically [8]. This lack of apathy not only allows, but by doing nothing, also reinforces the legitimacy of corrupt democratic process. Democracy is idealized. It is the narrative of those hell-bent on creating a new world order based on political freedom. It is however, a sensitive and complicated process, which is equally likely to fail as it is to succeed in regions divided socially or economically. Democracy is not universal. It requires balance of power, a committed populous, and constant questioning. In the United States, the founding fathers created a democratic process to be checked and questioned at each and every step of the governmental process. If democracy is to spread to every region, it must be instituted with this same refrain.
Max SickingerStaff Writer

Sources and Notes

[1] https://www.rt.com/news/364018-orban-democracy-export-arrogant/
[2] https://www.bundestag.de/en/#url=L2VuL2RvY3VtZW50cy90ZXh0YXJjaGl2ZS9lbGVjdGlvbi0yMDE3LzUyNzI4
[3] http://africatimes.com/2016/10/27/poll-africans-are-looking-east-to-china-for-development-model
[4] https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/2016-election/campaign-finance/
[5] http://www.businessinsider.com/how-vladimir-putin-rose-to-power-2017-2
[6] https://www.wzb.eu/sites/default/files/personen/merkel.wolfgang.289/comparativesociology_prin tedtext.pdf
[7] http://www.worldpolicy.org/journal/fall2012/democracy-decline
[8] https://newrepublic.com/article/88632/failing-democracy-venezuela-arab-spring

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