It’s been said that a pessimist is simply a well-informed optimist. But the very well-informed Thomas Carothers cautions against the democratic pessimism prompted by the rise and resilience of global authoritarianism, the backlash against democracy assistance and the end of the Third Wave of democracy.
“[A]lthough the condition of democracy is certainly troubled in many places, ” he notes, “when viewed relative to where it was at the start of this decade, democracy has not lost ground in the world overall”, except for the former Soviet Union.
The anti-democratic impact of authoritarian regimes’ foreign policies presents grounds for concern. But, with the exception of Russia’s role in Georgia and Ukraine and Iranian influence in Iraq and Lebanon, “they did not make a significant dent on the overall state of democracy.”
Similarly, the China model of developmental authoritarianism has generated more comment than imitators, while Hugo Chavez’s “political adventurism” and the victory of radical populists in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua has “not… significantly blunted or reshaped the basically democratic trajectory of Latin American politics.”
Fledgling democracies may yet fall victim to the global economic crisis, but undemocratic states are even more vulnerable due to their reliance on performance-based legitimacy, Carothers suggests.
Not only is democracy not in retreat, but we might expect a “continuation of the long-term decline of tyranny and at least modest advances in democracy” over the next decade ahead, he argues in a complementary paper, Democracy Promotion Under Obama: Finding a Way Forward. The new U.S. President’s instincts and profile reflect the characteristics that should inform a new approach to democracy assistance – balanced, bipartisan, pragmatic, predisposed to partnership and melding inspiration with restraint:
President Obama’s core message, reinforced by his disposition, his political philosophy, and his life experience, is that all people, no matter how disempowered, can gain greater control over their lives. It is a natural message of global democratic solidarity.
Democracy Promotion Under Obama
Date: Tuesday, March 3, 2009, 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. Location: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
The problematic legacy of Bush’s democracy promotion efforts and the choppy waters for democracy in many regions create pressure on the incoming Obama administration to pull back on supporting democracy abroad. In a new policy brief, however, Thomas Carothers argues that the United States can and should remain an active supporter of democracy abroad. By following the new president’s cardinal values—non-confrontational, measured, persistent, bipartisan, cooperative, effective, and empowering—the United States can regain its place as a respected, trusted, and influential ally of democracy around the world.
Carnegie’s Robert Kagan and Human Rights Watch’s Tom Malinowski will join Carothers for a discussion on how best to move U.S. democracy promotion policy forward. Copies of the brief and Carothers’s new Carnegie Paper, Stepping Back from Democratic Pessimism, will be available at the event. RSVP to email@example.com