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This section presents logic and evidence that demonstrates that the spread of democracy consistently advances many important values, including individual freedom from political oppression, deadly violence, and hunger. It also will show how the spread of democracy promotes international peace and stability, and helps to ensure the security and prosperity of the United States. The third section summarizes and rebuts some of the most prominent recent arguments against promoting democracy.

These arguments include criticisms of the democratic peace hypothesis, the proposition that the process of democratization actually increases the risk of war, claims that in many countries democratic elections are at best irrelevant and at worst harmful, and the argument that the emergence of the "Asian model" of political and economic development demonstrates that liberal democracy is neither appropriate nor necessary in many countries.


Some writers have simply defined it by what it is not: "Democracy is a system in which no one can choose himself, no one can invest himself with the power to rule and, therefore, no one can abrogate to himself unconditional and unlimited power. Philippe Schmitter and Terry Karl offer the following definition: "Modern political democracy is a system of governance in which rulers are held accountable for their actions in the public realm by citizens acting indirectly through the competition and cooperation of their elected representatives.

Attempts to define democracy are further complicated by the differences between the democracy of ancient Greece and contemporary democracy. Classical Athenian democracy was based on the ideals of full political participation of all citizens, a strong sense of community, the sovereignty of the people, and equality of all citizens under law. Because most writers use the term democracy to apply to modern, representative political systems, I will call such regimes democracies even if they fall short of the ancient Greek ideal of direct participatory democracy.

Most contemporary definitions of democracy have several common elements. First, democracies are countries in which there are institutional mechanisms, usually elections, that allow the people to choose their leaders. Second, prospective leaders must compete for public support. Third, the power of the government is restrained by its accountability to the people.

These are the essential characteristics of political democracy. Some writers add additional criteria to the list of what makes a polity a democracy. Larry Diamond argues that a democracy must have "extensive civil liberties freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom to form and join organizations. These attempts to expand the criteria for democracy reveal that it makes more sense to talk about degrees of democracy instead of neatly dividing states into democracies and nondemocracies.

Some states may be more democratic than others; drawing the line between democracy and nondemocracy will usually be a matter of judgment. They also highlight the importance of the distinction between democracy and liberalism. Democracy can be defined as a set of political procedures involving participation and competition, but liberalism is a political philosophy that is based on the principle of individual freedom.

As one scholar puts it, "liberalism's ends are life and property, and its means are liberty and toleration. Most democracies are liberal democracies to some degree. The Western industrial countries combine procedural democracy with guarantees of civil liberties.

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Any state that embraces liberal principles is likely to become a democracy, because political participation, competition, and accountability are perhaps the best guarantees that individual freedoms will be preserved. Thus the terms "liberal" and "democracy" often go hand in hand. It is possible, however, that a country could be an illiberal democracy. For example, states with official racialist or nationalist ideologies might choose their leaders in elections but deny liberty to members of particular minority groups.

Serbia and Iran are contemporary illiberal democracies. It is also possible-although unlikely-that a country could be a liberal state without being a democracy. In theory, a polity governed by a benevolent despot could respect most or all of the individual liberties associated with liberalism. In practice, relatively few contemporary states are liberal without being democratic. Given the variety of definitions of democracy and the distinction between democracy and liberalism, what type of government should the United States attempt to spread?

Should it try to spread democracy, defined procedurally, liberalism, or both? Ultimately, U. Policies to promote democracy should attempt to increase the number of regimes that respect the individual liberties that lie at the heart of liberalism and elect their leaders.

The United States therefore should attempt to build support for liberal principles-many of which are enshrined in international human-rights treaties-as well as encouraging states to hold free and fair elections. Supporting the spread of liberal democracy does not, however, mean that the United States should give the promotion of liberalism priority over the growth of electoral democracy. In most cases, support for electoral democracy can contribute to the spread of liberalism and liberal democracy.

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Free and fair elections often remove leaders who are the biggest impediments to the spread of democracy. In Burma, for example, the people would almost certainly remove the authoritarian SLORC regime from power if they had a choice at the ballot box. In South Africa, Haiti, and Chile, for example, elections removed antidemocratic rulers and advanced the process of democratization.

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In most cases, the United States should support elections even in countries that are not fully liberal. Elections will generally initiate a process of change toward democratization. American policy should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good by insisting that countries embrace liberal principles before holding elections.

Such a policy could be exploited by authoritarian rulers to justify their continued hold on power and to delay elections that they might lose. In addition, consistent U. Achieving this goal is worth the risk that some distasteful leaders will win elections and use these victories at the ballot box to legitimize their illiberal rule.

The United States also should attempt to build support for liberal principles, both before and after other countries hold elections. Policies that advance liberalism are harder to develop and pursue than those that aim to persuade states to hold free and fair elections, but the United States can promote liberalism as well as electoral democracy, as I argue below. Most Americans assume that democracy is a good thing and that the spread of democracy will be beneficial. Because the virtues of democracy are taken for granted, they are rarely fully enumerated and considered.

Democracy is not an unalloyed good, so it is important not to overstate or misrepresent the benefits of democratization. Nevertheless, the spread of democracy has many important benefits.

This section enumerates how the spread of democracy will improve the lives of the citizens of new democracies, contribute to international peace, and directly advance the national interests of the United States. The United States should attempt to spread democracy because people generally live better lives under democratic governments. Compared to inhabitants of nondemocracies, citizens of democracies enjoy greater individual liberty, political stability, freedom from governmental violence, enhanced quality of life, and a much lower risk of suffering a famine.

Skeptics will immediately ask: Why should the United States attempt to improve the lives of non-Americans? Shouldn't this country focus on its own problems and interests? There are at least three answers to these questions. First, as human beings, American should and do feel some obligation to improve the well-being of other human beings.

The bonds of common humanity do not stop at the borders of the United States. In a world where the use of force remains possible, no government can afford to pursue a foreign policy based on altruism. The human race is not about to embrace a cosmopolitan moral vision in which borders and national identities become irrelevant. But there are many possibilities for action motivated by concern for individuals in other countries.


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In the United States, continued public concern over human rights in other countries, as well as governmental and nongovernmental efforts to relieve hunger, poverty, and suffering overseas, suggest that Americans accept some bonds of common humanity and feel some obligations to foreigners. The emergence of the so-called "CNN Effect"-the tendency for Americans to be aroused to action by television images of suffering people overseas-is further evidence that cosmopolitan ethical sentiments exist.

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If Americans care about improving the lives of the citizens of other countries, then the case for promoting democracy grows stronger to the extent that promoting democracy is an effective means to achieve this end. Second, Americans have a particular interest in promoting the spread of liberty. The United States was founded on the principle of securing liberty for its citizens. Its founding documents and institutions all emphasize that liberty is a core value.

Among the many observers and political scientists who make this point is Samuel Huntington, who argues that America's "identity as a nation is inseparable from its commitment to liberal and democratic values. Given its founding principles and very identity, the United States has a large stake in advancing its core value of liberty. As Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott has argued: "The United States is uniquely and self-consciously a country founded on a set of ideas, and ideals, applicable to people everywhere.

The Founding Fathers declared that all were created equal-not just those in Britain's 13 American colonies-and that to secure the 'unalienable rights' of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, people had the right to establish governments that derive 'their just powers from the consent of the governed. Third, improvements in the lives of individuals in other countries matter to Americans because the United States cannot insulate itself from the world.

These trends give the United States a greater stake in the fate of other societies, because widespread misery abroad may create political turmoil, economic instability, refugee flows, and environmental damage that will affect Americans. As I argue below in my discussion of how promoting democracy serves U. The growing interconnectedness of international relations means that the United States also has an indirect stake in the well-being of those in other countries, because developments overseas can have unpredictable consequences for the United States.

For these three reasons, at least, Americans should care about how the spread of democracy can improve the lives of people in other countries. The first way in which the spread of democracy enhances the lives of those who live in democracies is by promoting individual liberty, including freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, and freedom to own private property.

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As Samuel Huntington has written, liberty is "the peculiar virtue of democracy. Moreover, governments that are accountable to the public are less likely to deprive their citizens of human rights. The global spread of democracy is likely to bring greater individual liberty to more and more people. Even imperfect and illiberal democracies tend to offer more liberty than autocracies, and liberal democracies are very likely to promote liberty. Freedom House's survey of "Freedom in the World" found that 79 out of democracies could be classified as "free" and 39 were "partly free" and, of those, 29 qualified as "high partly free.

The case for the maximum possible amount of individual freedom can be made on the basis of utilitarian calculations or in terms of natural rights. The utilitarian case for increasing the amount of individual liberty rests on the belief that increased liberty will enable more people to realize their full human potential, which will benefit not only themselves but all of humankind.

This view holds that greater liberty will allow the human spirit to flourish, thereby unleashing greater intellectual, artistic, and productive energies that will ultimately benefit all of humankind. The rights-based case for liberty, on the other hand, does not focus on the consequences of increased liberty, but instead argues that all men and women, by virtue of their common humanity, have a right to freedom. This argument is most memorably expressed in the American Declaration of Independence: "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness The virtues of greater individual liberty are not self-evident.

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Various political ideologies argue against making liberty the paramount goal of any political system. Some do not deny that individual liberty is an important goal, but call for limiting it so that other goals may be achieved. Others place greater emphasis on obligations to the community.