Michael Walzer on Democracy Promotion

Question: Should Americans promote democracy around the world?

Michael Walzer: Well, I think democrats, small “d” democrats should promote democracy around the world. They should do it by cultivating friendships with democrats in other countries, especially democratic dissidents and authoritarian countries. They should provide them with moral support. They should make sure that their names are known in the world so that the governments, their governments cannot make them disappear so easily. They should contribute money to groups like Human Rights Watch. I think international civil society is the space within which we should be democracy promoters, and although groups like Human Rights Watch don’t say that they are working for regime change, they are in fact working for regime change when they expose the brutalities of despotic regimes. And that’s the place. I think at the governmental level we need to be much more cautious. Governments are coercive, governments command military power, governments should not be involved in the work of democracy promotion, except in very limited and special circumstances. Had there been, let’s say, a NATO or a European Union intervention in Rwanda, where European countries had been involved as colonial powers, had there been a European intervention in Rwanda to stop the killing and necessarily to overthrow the Hutu Power government which was organizing the killing, then Europeans would have been responsible for the political reconstruction of the country, perhaps under a UN mandate of some sort. And then, they should aim at the best regime that they can possibly create in those circumstances, first of all, most importantly, a non murderous regime. But if the opportunity presented itself to create a more or less democratic regime, they should do it, because they are already there and they face a need for political reconstruction. But, I wouldn’t go around promoting democracy by military means. I think that’s a bad idea.

Michael Walzer thinks the U.S. should spread liberal democracy to other parts of the world—mostly, by example.

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