Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Daniele Archibugi, "Democracy for export: principles, practices, lessons," openDemocracy, March 3, 2009.

[Of the far-too-numerous reasons for our war in Afghanistan, exporting democracy probably ranks second after liberating women. This essay questions that project in general. -jlt]

The image of the past

The idea that freedom and democracy can be exported all over the world is an ancient dream. Athenian democrats, French revolutionaries, and Russian Bolsheviks, to mention only the better-known cases, were convinced that their own political system was good enough to be donated to all peoples. But not even the path to freedom is carpeted with rose-petals: enthusiasm is often mingled with fanaticism; idealism must come to terms with the harsh laws of Realpolitik (see Luciano Canfora, Esportare la liberta [Mondadori, 2007]).

At the end of the second world war, democracy was a gift made by the Americans to the Europeans. An Italian cannot be unmindful of the glorious days of the summer of 1944 and the spring of 1945, when the main Italian cities were being liberated by Allied troops. I use the term liberated because this was the feeling of the vast majority of Italians, who considered that the Allies' arrival marked the end of Nazi and fascist brutality, of civil war, and of the air raids. However, it is often forgotten that at the time the Allies referred to Italy as an "occupied" country; rightly so, since until only a few months before, it had been an active ally of Hitler's Germany.

  Anyone wishing to export democracy must therefore be sure that their intervention will be appreciated and not perceived by the population as merely replacing one internal authoritarian regime with another imposed from the outside.

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