NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Mistakes of Democracy

May 28, 2003

Spreading democracy by the sword -- as Washington has recently done in the Middle East -- may backfire on the United States, according to Fareed Zakaria in his new book, published by Norton, "The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad."

Zakaria reminds us that democracy and liberty are not identical, that the form of electoral politics should not be confused with the substance of liberalism. In short, says the editor of Newsweek International and former managing editor of Foreign Affairs, the rush to democracy in Iraq may be premature and, in the end, terribly harmful.

In fact, Zakaria warns, Democracy can be illiberal:

  • Voters in Yugoslavia installed Slobodan Milosevic and a policy of ethnic cleansing.
  • Adolf Hitler's ascent to the German Chancellorship resulted from a free vote.
  • In Venezuela, the electorate empowered a caudillo.

Then again, Zakaria contends, dictators can impose liberal outcomes. When General Suharto governed, Indonesia had ethnic peace and strong economic growth.

Rushing to democratize Iraq, Zakaria warns, may be premature and harmful.

Source: Bruce Nussbaum, "When Democracy Backfires," BussinessWeek, April 28, 2003.


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