2014 July 03 Thursday
Stephen Walt: Liberal Idealism Leads To Damaging Foreign Policy

Crazy neoconservatives and liberals unite to mislead the American public so they can do crazy things abroad.

Moreover, liberal governments seeking to wage idealistic crusades often end up lying to their own people in order to sustain popular support, and they have to maintain large and secretive national security apparatuses as well. Paradoxically, the more a liberal society tries to spread its creed to others, the more likely it is to compromise those values back home. One need only look at the evolution of U.S. politics over the past 20 years to see that tendency in spades.

Finally, because most liberals are convinced that their cherished beliefs are beyond debate, they fail to recognize that non-liberal societies may not welcome these wonderful gifts from abroad.

Where I think Walt's essay comes up short: Too much dwelling on elites. He does not try to explain just how much the anti-liberalism of many societies flows more from the masses (for a variety of reasons), how intractable it is (again, for a variety of reasons) and not from whoever happens to be King or or dictator at the moment. Here's just one can see how much societies differ by looking at world values survey results

Deeply illiberal societies are not going to become liberal by becoming democracies:

About eight-in-ten Muslims in Egypt and Pakistan (82% each) endorse the stoning of people who commit adultery; 70% of Muslims in Jordan and 56% of Nigerian Muslims share this view. Muslims in Pakistan and Egypt are also the most supportive of whippings and cutting off of hands for crimes like theft and robbery; 82% in Pakistan and 77% in Egypt favor making this type of punishment the law in their countries, as do 65% of Muslims in Nigeria and 58% in Jordan. When asked about the death penalty for those who leave the Muslim religion, at least three-quarters of Muslims in Jordan (86%), Egypt (84%) and Pakistan (76%) say they would favor making it the law; in Nigeria, 51% of Muslims favor and 46% oppose it. In contrast, Muslims in Lebanon, Turkey and Indonesia largely reject the notion that harsh punishments should be the law in their countries. About three-quarters of Turkish and Lebanese Muslims oppose the stoning of people who commit adultery (77% and 76%, respectively), as does a narrower majority (55%) of Muslims in Indonesia. Opposition to whippings and cutting off of hands for crimes like theft and robbery and the death penalty for people who leave Islam is even more widespread in these three countries; 86% of Muslims in Lebanon, 82% in Turkey and 61% in Indonesia are against making harsh punishments for robbery and theft the law in their countries, and 93%, 91% and 64%, respectively, object to the death penalty against those who leave the Muslim religion.

No, Arab Spring is not going to turn these countries into Jeffersonian democracies.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2014 July 03 09:24 AM 

Gab said at July 6, 2014 3:58 AM:

What exactly is a 'Jeffersonian' democracy? Does the city government of Detroit, say, qualify? How about Miami? Are the Bush and Clinton dynasties a reflection of what ordinary Americans really want? How about banking and securities deregulation-a response to the will of the majority? Did the invasion of Iraq follow naturally from some kind of uncontrollable democratic war lust?

Most democracies nowadays-Jeffersonian or otherwise-are more or less shells for oligarchical rule. The drive to democratize the Mid-East #ideally with airstrikes# is/was mostly about defanging threats to Israel, not a concern for most Americans. That 'Dem Dumb Muslims' are not Jeffersonian enough is not the problem.

Big Bill said at July 13, 2014 4:14 PM:

This is the point that Amy Chua made in her book "Worlds on Fire". If you encourage democracy in illiberal cultures filled with illiberal people, you encourage and ratify their illiberal beliefs and attitudes and they will act out violently.

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